One sector of the industry that has seen a reduction in the number of players is refining. Before deregulation, the country had three refiners (Petron, Shell, and Caltex). Caltex exited soon after deregulation, converting its refinery instead into an import facility. The oil refining industry is a capital intensive one, with a new medium-sized refinery costing as much as $7 to $10 billion. This may well have been a deterrent to the entry of a new refinery. Shell has also announced in August 2020 that it is closing down its refinery permanently after over five decades of operation.

On the other hand, we note that in 2011, San Miguel Corporation, the parent company of Petron, acquired controlling equity in an Exxon-Mobil refinery in Port Dickson, Malaysia, with a 45,000 barrels per day capacity for $600 million, smaller even than the old Caltex refinery in Batangas. The Malaysian petroleum market is larger than the Philippines, though, which may have attracted Petron. It was subsequently reported that Petron invested $100 million to upgrade the refinery to meet Malaysian environmental standards and planned to double its capacity to 88,000 barrels per day.

[The CRC research team] does not contemplate recommending industrial policy to ‘promote’ refining as an industry in the Philippines. The availability of oil and refined products in the global markets has allowed us to import beyond our refinery capacities. As the Petron example above illustrates, this can be left as a business decision by individual companies.

Among the “competition issues” considered in the “2021 Market Study on the Refined Petroleum Industry,” conducted for the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) by a team of CRC consultants headed by Dr. Peter Lee U, is the question of whether government should take action to promote refineries as an aspect of the Philippines’ Refined Petroleum Industry, considering that the number of industry players running a refinery in the country will soon be down to one. The paper was released earlier this year in the PCC’s series of Issues Papers, which aim to examine the structure, conduct, and performance of select industries to better inform and guide PCC’s advocacy and enforcement initiatives.

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