“Corporations, which are by nature expected to recover the cost of their expenses and liabilities can raise the minimum fare without a public hearing.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Many policy decisions by the Duterte administration last year spurred to action both the commuters and transport operators and workers. By yearend, groups of jeepney drivers and operators had launched at least three transport strikes; commuter groups joined by students had conducted campaigns in railway stations opposing its continuing privatization, increasing fares and mishaps; and in December, transport groups and commuters formed the Samahan at Ugnayan ng mga Konsyumer para sa Ikauunlad ng Bayan (SUKI), an alliance vowing to advance not just “a pleasant experience” in transportation, which the Department of Transportation frequently mentions, but one that is also affordable and accessible.
Much of the Duterte administration’s adopted policies in 2017 concerning transportation only continued where his predecessors left off. Unfortunately for commuters and the transportation workers, most of it is making transportation costlier but not necessarily safer to the riding public.
Private-run, profit-driven mass transportation remains
The most efficient among public transportation in the Philippines today is the train. But except for the PNR and LRT-2, most of the existing train systems are being run and controlled by private corporations, with guaranteed profits, fare hikes and government subsidies. The train systems currently being constructed are also under the control of private corporate groups even if the public, through the government, are shelling out money to build the railways and acquire right of way.
In 2017, the Duterte government did not act on the long-standing calls from various progressive organizations to rescind the “onerous privatization contracts” of LRT and MRT http://bulatlat.com/main/2016/08/12/revoking-onerous-privatization-deal-a-win-win-solution-in-lrt1-scientists-group/. With these contracts, corporations such as those led by the Ayalas and the group led by Manny V. Pangilinan have taken over the operation and profits of the LRT1.
Meanwhile, commuters who helped to fund with their taxes and fares the cost of constructing the LRT as well as the government subsidies to run it are increasingly forced to pay higher fares. The Duterte administration opted to continue the contracts without reviewing its contents.
In the privately-owned but government-run and subsidized MRT, the Duterte administration still has to take to task the former administration’s transport officials for the mess in the MRT. Based on previous Senate hearings on MRT, the contractors signed up by transport officials under Aquino were unqualified to do the job.
2017 began with the previous year’s carried over calls from consumers and progressive groups to reverse the privatization of the LRT and MRT, and for the government to take over its operations and prioritize the provision of public service rather than the generation of profits. All these were not taken up by the Duterte administration.
Forcing the small jeepney operators out of the road
In the mass transportation serving secondary routes currently being answered to by jeepneys, the Duterte administration has aggressively been pushing also for corporate control.
The jeepneys took the place of the tranvia after the destruction of the Second World War. Manufactured from surplus military jeepney and retrofitted with a coach similar but longer than the calesa, it has since symbolized Filipino ingenuity. It answered the need for transportation when the government had no other viable alternatives. The jeepney assembly industry has long hoped for government support in sourcing machines and upgrading local vehicle manufacturing. But under the Aquino government, the jeepneys’ forced obsolescence was declared. Just to create a market for a different jeepney and an opening for corporate takeover of the jeepney transport system, the Aquino government begun pushing for what they call as jeepney ‘modernization’ program. This is now being pushed as well by the Duterte administration.
In 2017 the government skirmished with jeepney drivers’ groups as the latter launched coordinated protests and strikes against what they call as “bogus” jeepney modernization. The government’s call for ‘modernization’ appeals to the commuters but as PISTON and later SUKI said, “The country’s transport system should be modernized but not at the expense of people’s money and taxes.”
The Duterte administration’s jeepney ‘modernization’ is akin to an employees’ ‘constructive dismissal.’ It will edge out independent drivers and much of the current crop of operators.
The program will cost each operator his or her currently running jeepney/s and up to P1.6 million per jeepney that is being peddled by the government. To add to the burden of operators, he or she cannot operate with just one unit; it has to be a fleet.
The taxpayers, meanwhile, will pay a part of the cost of the new jeepney, as the government promises to pay the bank-required equity should an operator buy a ‘modern’ jeepney on a loan. Naturally, the jeepney transport system will end up in the hands of corporations who can afford a fleet, Piston said.
“Corporations, which are by nature expected to recover the cost of their expenses and liabilities, can raise the minimum fare without a public hearing,” said Donna Miranda, SUKI spokesperson for consumer concerns.
“The Duterte administration’s corporatization of the public transport system will tend to jack up fares,” opined various groups at a SUKI forum last December. Instead of this, they said the government should be able to run and regulate the transportation sector, and ensure not only that it is clean and safe but also that it is accessible and affordable.