Court allows 'Big 3' to hike gasoline prices weekly

January 11, 2010 10:52 pm 

MANILA, Jan. 11 –A Manila regional trial court (RTC) denied on Monday a motion to stop the three big oil companies from increasing prices of petroleum products on a weekly basis.

Judge Silvino Pampilo Jr. of the Manila RTC Branch 26, cited lack of merit in dismissing the motion for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) filed by Social Justice Society (SJS).

“Although this court sympathizes with the cry of the masses and the seeming inability of the government to act and remedy the situation, this court cannot issue an injunctive relief to stop oil price increase in absence of any factual or legal basis,” said Pampilo in his three-page order.

The judge also gave weight on the testimony of University of the Philippines (UP) Professor Solita Monsod, who served as amicus curiae, that there was an absence of overpricing and monopoly among the Big three oil companies.

“She (Monsod) explained that there is no overpricing and there are no excess profits or monopoly profits and there are empirical and theoretical basis for her answers,” he said.

He said: “After careful and judicious review of the arguments of the parties and the invited experts, petitioners failed to establish a clear and unmistakable right to warrant the issuance of an injunctive writ.”

The SJS filed a motion and sought for issuance of a TRO last August, 2009 to stop Chevron Philippines Inc. (formerly Caltex), Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corp. and Petron Corp. from increasing prices of their petroleum products.

The judge cited a previous Supreme Court ruling where it said that the issuance of an injunction “is the strong arm of equity that should never be extended unless to cases of great injury where courts of law cannot afford an adequate or commensurate remedy in damages.”

The same ruling also stated that injunction being a limitation upon freedom of action must only be granted when the court is fully satisfied “that the law permits it and the emergency demands it.”

The group cited a study by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), disputing the pricing of petroleum products by the Big three oil companies which, they claimed, gave sufficient basis for the issuance of the TRO and the writ of preliminary injunction as it represents the government’s position in the matter of the pricing of petroleum products.

Former NEDA director general Ralph Recto and Consumer and Oil Price Watch chair Raul Concepcion were cross-examined by lawyers of Petron Corp., Chevron and Pilipinas Shell during the past two hearings.

Concepcion testified that the oil firms resorted to fuel price increases at the time the cost of crude oil on the world market were falling.

On the other hand, Recto reiterated on the witness stand his pronouncements that prices of petroleum products were overpriced by as much as P8 a liter and claimed that there was cartelization among the top oil players.

While he was still NEDA director general, Recto, was vocal about his predictions about the expected downturn in oil prices and even cited a study to support his claim of overpricing.(PNA) RMA/JES

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