When govt regulations overcome common sense, the people suffer

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TOOTS OPLE

AN overseas Filipino worker attempted to kill himself after being laid off by his company due to the economic slowdown in the Middle East. He recently bought a car to invest in Uber, and could no longer make the monthly amortizations. I am sure that this was not his only problem, nevertheless, when one’s finances are gobbled up by debt, all lightness of being disappears.

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The suspension of Uber has brought on more horror stories, some involving frustrated commuters while others involve the non-earning partner-drivers. These horror stories should have made the agency concerned look deeper into the effects of their regulatory powers, to remove the arrogance of it, so that ordinary folks would have been spared its adverse consequences.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) may have won its multi-million-peso point when USI, the American company that operates Uber, agreed to pay the P190 million fine as well as financial assistance to affected Uber drivers in the Philippines. The national treasury may have won, but at great expense to the riding public.

The LTFRB’s regulatory mindset appears to be rooted in analog years resulting in slow action and lack of decisiveness in crafting policy towards TNCs. We learned through media reports how the agency took its own sweet time in renewing the provisional authority (PA) permits given to thousands of accredited Uber and Grab drivers.

In airing their side, LTFRB chief Martin Delgra III claimed that the problem began when the TNCs failed, in alleged deliberate fashion, to inform their “partner drivers” that they have an obligation to obtain a franchise from the LTFRB before operating. This argument begs a basic question though: couldn’t the regulatory board find ways to make it easier to up the compliance rate for “partner drivers” to deflect this crisis? Is this not part of its mandate, too?

For example, the Department of Foreign Affairs recognize that our overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East find it difficult to renew their passports because they work all the time and it costs a lot to travel all the way to the embassy for this service. This is why the DFA has regular mobile passport services through our diplomatic posts. They saw a problem, recognized it as a valid one, and offered a solution. Couldn’t the LTFRB come up with a simpler, more accessible and efficient way of obtaining the necessary permits?

Sometimes, this is all that good and compassionate governance requires. Our lives as citizens become extremely complicated when government makes up its mind to complicate it for us.

Another example: the Bureau of Customs’ awful rules on “balikbayan boxes”. The Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) provides senders of balikbayan boxes tax exemption for a corresponding value of P150,000 per year per legitimate sender.

This meaningful gesture has been ruined by restrictions found not in the law, but in the red tape-ridden imagination of customs regulators. The BoC now requires that “balikbayan box” senders present their passports as the sole identification document prior to any door-to-door transaction. The stupidity of this rule defies all combined logic in the universe. How can a domestic worker in the Middle East send her “balikbayan box” when her passport is with her Arab employer? Restricting government-acceptable identification cards to just a Philippine passport would prevent hundreds, if not thousands, of overseas domestic workers from being able to send months of lovingly saved-up goods to their families in provinces across the country.

Then there is that heart-wrenching, tragic case of 17-year old Kian Loyd de los Santos. It had to take a Senate committee hearing chaired by Sen. Panfilo Lacson for the heads of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to set an appointment to see each other in front of the media and for all the world to see. During the hearing, CHR chairman Chito Gascon said his office had requested in writing for a top-level meeting with the PNP chief. Lacson quipped that the communication may have gotten lost on its way to Director-General “Bato” de la Rosa’s desk. Quick to react, the general said he was willing to sit down with the CHR, any time and any place. It was quite painful to watch. Must it take a young boy’s murder and a public hearing for this meeting to finally take place?

Voltaire, the philosopher-writer, once said: “Common sense is not so common.” Public policies and government regulations should be a product of common sense and developed with empathy for the rights and welfare of ordinary citizens. Bureaucrats must shed their hubristic coats in favor of rolled-up sleeves and open minds, seeking out ways to make our lives easier. Governance is all about raising the people’s quality of life, not demolishing it.

The President is adamantly against all forms of red tape and avenues for corruption and abuse of power. We expect bureaucrats, especially those with regulatory functions to implement this directive, as humble servants of the people.

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