Philippines: Strike Over Gas Hike Paralyzes Southern City

COTABATO CITY -- Jeepney drivers and operators, slumdwellers and other
sectoral representatives yesterday took to the streets to demand an oil
price rollback and the resignation or ouster of President Estrada.

The transport strike paralyzed economic activities in this city of
Mindanao, Southern Philippines for the first time in its history.

Public and private schools were forced to suspend classes, while banks
closed by noon.

The Cotabato City Drivers and Operators Association and Akbayan, an
umbrella of non-government and advocacy groups, led some 1,000
protesters in demanding an oil price rollback, scrapping of the proposed
road user's tax and the President's removal from office.

''President Estrada should step down if he cannot fulfill his promise of
liberating us from poverty,'' said Nenita Junsay Herrera, a village
councilor and leader of an urban poor organization called Samahan ng mga
Kristiyano at Muslim Para sa Tunay na Kalayaan at Demokrasya Foundation.

''Almost every month, there is an oil price increase. This only shows
how the government is killing us slowly. We should be aware of the
truth. The increase in oil prices is unjust and inhuman, she said in

The protesters urged commuters to take leaves of absence and join their

''We did not demand a fare hike because we know how hard it is for
commuters, but bear with us on this day of strike,'' said Erlinda
Baares, president of a jeepney operators' association.

''We are not the only beneficiaries but you, too. We are taking your
cause because all of us will benefit from it,'' she said.

''We should oust Erap from his post because he is not responsive to the
needs of the masses. We voted him so we have the right to remove him
from his post,'' Baares said in Filipino.

Joining the transport strike were the Cotabato City Drivers'
Association, Cotabato City Transport Service Cooperative, Awang
Transport Organization and Muslim-Christian Drivers and Operators'

Government offices were open although many employees were absent. Mayor
Muslimin Sema earlier mobilized at least 40 government vehicles to ferry
employees and stranded commuters.

Maj. Luisito Marcellino, 3rd Marine Battalion Landing Team chief, also
dispatched trucks and military vehicles to assist the commuters, mostly
government workers.

In Angeles City, the anti-oil cartel and anti-deregulation alliance
People's Protest-Central Luzon began gearing up for a regionwide
transport strike on March 27 to demand an oil price rollback and the
nationalization of the oil industry.

Member organizations of the alliance on Monday night set up protest
centers in Angeles City, Subic town in Zambales, Cabanatuan City,
Balanga town in Bataan and Malolos town in Bulacan, according to Ely
Taruc, alliance co-chair.

The centers plan to gather protest signatures from consumers and hold
street forums on the need to nationalize the oil industry, he said.

The centers are being maintained by the Kilusan para sa Pambansang
Demokrasya chapters in Central Luzon until March 27.

Also on Monday, members of the Bukluran ng Makabayang Tsuper at
Operaytor, an alliance member, led a motorcade and noise barrage around
Angeles and San Fernando, both in Pampanga.

In Bulacan, protests held by Bumper members briefly paralyzed
transportation in Malolos, Meycauayan and Bulacan towns.

In Bataan, drivers protesting the new rounds of oil price increases
joined Bumper's Sakbayan run from Mariveles to Balanga.

At least 50 big transport federations, all under Bumper, agreed to stage
the March 27 regional strike, Taruc said. With a report from Tonette
Orejas, PDI Central Luzon Desk

AMP Section Name:Energy
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