DAN MAIANO The countrys biggest oil companies raised their pump prices to the same levels at the same time again last Tuesday. By doing so, they confirmed that deregulation had not resulted in the sort of business competition that was supposed to benefit consumers. The oil majors, along with their smaller counterparts, continue to act in concert, especially when market conditions offer an excuse to engage in consumer gouging. The deregulation law permits the oil companies to do as they please but no legislation exists that would allow, say, transport workers to recoup losses from high fuel prices just as quickly. Instead, drivers and operators of buses and jeepneys need to go through the tedious process of applying for fare adjustments with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). By the time the LTFRB responds favourably to the fare-hike petitions of transport workers, the latter would have already sustained financial losses they can no longer hope to recover. There is something fundamentally flawed and unfair about a state policy that allows the oil companies to secure their profit margins but denies the same protection to the public transport sector. On the other hand, if public transport operators were given the same leeway as the oil companies commuters would have to bear the brunt of rising fuel prices - even more so than they already do now. Here is the ugly side of capitalism: the lower your status in the economic ladder the greater is the likelihood that all the crap from above will fall on you. Short of a social upheaval, which only tends to make matters worse, the logical way out of our collective quandary over rising fuel prices is to cut our dependence on oil. Easier said than, yes, but it can be done. In fact, initiatives toward an oil-free public transport system have already been launched even in this country. Take for example the e-jeepneys that ply certain routes in Makati and Fort Bonifacio. The e-jeepneys of Metro Manila have even caught the attention of Discovery Channel, which aired not too long ago a documentary on the iconic Philippine mini-buses that run, not on inefficient and filthy internal combustion engines, but on clean and quiet electric motors. Unfortunately, the rest of the public transport sector has been slow to adopt the notion of motorised vehicles that run on batteries. Above all other considerations there is the cost factor that reinforces resistance. E-jeepneys dont come cheap. However, they are not exactly beyond the reach of jeepney operators and at least one company is eyeing the possibility of mass marketing electric vehicles in the Philippines. According to published reports, a Chinese Motor Group is conducting a feasibility study for an electric car manufacturing plant that it is thinking of setting up in the Philippines. The facility it plans to establish would target both the domestic market and the rest of the Southeast Asia. E-vehicles will cut demand for gasoline and diesel fuel, which should cause the oil companies to seriously reconsider their pricing policies. But e-vehicles will also require a major upgrade in the countrys capacity to generate and distribute power. Yet, even this can be done - if only the bean-counters who dominate the power sector are made to give way to the innovators. Moreover, e-vehicles that rely on alternative indigenous energy sources would complete a loop that would assure cheap and clean mass transport. What could speed up the development of this network is a proactive and innovative government, acting through a farsighted leader at the helm of the Department of Energy (DOE). President-elect Mr Aquino could do the country a lasting service by appointing someone to the DOE with an eye to the future, one who is unafraid to innovate and knows what he is doing. After all, from energy comes all that the country needs to build up its economy and cut poverty. Manila Times