Malacañang and the Senate appear headed for a collision over the recently-implemented fare increases in the Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT 3), Light Rail Transit 1 and LRT 2 as a Palace spokesman maintained that such adjustments are beyond the reach of Congress.
“Fare adjustment is a long overdue structural reform that goes beyond annual budgetary provisions,”
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a text message to The Manila Times.
He was reacting to Sen. Grace Poe’s assertion that the manner of the implementation of the fare adjustments was “treacherous” and “Judas-like” as these were done just after the olidays and caught commuters unprepared.
Poe, who heads the Senate public services sub-committee on transportation, said the government should have been more transparent on its plan to impose new train rates.
The senator wants the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to explain why it did not inform the Senate of its plan to adjust rail rates when the agency was defending its budget for 2015 that includes the government subsidy for the train systems.
“For me, the timing of the fare increases is wrong and unjustifiable given the poor condition and services being provided by the management of the train systems. Para sa akin, napaka-Hudas ng ginawa nila [For me, what they did was a clear, Judas-like betrayal],” Poe said.
Other lawmakers backed moves calling for a congressional inquiry into the matter.
The 2015 General Appropriations Act (GAA) signed recently by President Benigno Aquino Jr. allotted a P4.65-billion train subsidy, P7.94 billion for MRT 3 rehabilitation and P4.67 billion for unpaid MRT 3 taxes.
But Coloma maintained that there was no “treachery” in the fare hikes’ implementation, noting that the President had tackled the issue in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 2013.
“This was announced by the President in the 2013 SONA. DOTC held public consultations. User-pays principle is embodied in Philippine Development Plan that was adopted in 2011,” he said.
In a news briefing in Malacañang also on Tuesday, Coloma presented a chart showing the timeframe of all projects lined up for 2015 in connection with improving the services at the railway systems.
“Ipinapakita po natin ito upang ipaliwanag at ipaunawa sa ating mga mamamayan ‘yung konteksto ng pinag-uusapan din ngayon hinggil sa pagbago ng sistema ng pagsingil na ‘yung pagdadagdag ng singil sa pamasahe kasabay naman nito ‘yung seryosong programa sa pagpapahusay at pagpapabuti ng mga pasilidad ng MRT at LRT. Kaya’t hinihiling po natin ‘yung pag-unawa ng ating mga mamamayan sa mga kasalukuyang kaganapan [We are showing this to explain to the public the context of this issue, with the rate adjustment comes serious efforts to improve and enhance the facilities of MRT and LRT],” he said.
Coloma explained that the most important project concerning MRT 3 is capacity expansion. He noted that starting in September, 48 additional coaches will be added. Once this project is completed, the official said there will be more train rides, thus shortening waiting time for commuters.
Coloma said new rail tracks will also be put in place of old ones.
Besides these, the Palace official said the DOTC will also upgrade ancillary systems such as power sub-stations, depot facilities for parking, construction of North Avenue turnback and Taft Avenue pocket track extension, upgrade of signaling system, overhauling of 25 light rail vehicles and traction motors and installation of new radio communications system.
Meanwhile, groups that oppose the train fare increases claimed that no consultations were made between the DOTC and other stakeholders.
“Fare hike consultations were just an afterthought. The LRT fare increase was already provisionally approved in January 2011 by the LRTA [Light Rail Transit Authority], ahead of any public consultation. The LRTA board then again approved the fare hike on February 24, 2011, after ‘public consultations,’” said Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general Renato Reyes Jr.
“The LRTA Board also got LTFRB [Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board] concurrence on May 10, 2011. Therefore the approval was already ‘completed’ so to speak, BEFORE the December 13, 2013 ‘public consultations’, which at the time was nothing more than a public forum, a simple FYI [for your information],” Reyes added.
Two more petitions questioning the rail fare increases were filed on Tuesday at the Supreme Court by Bayan Muna and the United Filipino Consumers and Commuters (UFCC).
Bayan Muna party-list Congressmen Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate filed the Bayan Muna petition, and Anthony Ian Cruz, Imelda Luna and Carl Ala that of UFCC.
On Monday, Reyes and former Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco also filed petitions assailing the DOTC order increasing rail fares.
Bayan Muna said DOTC Secretary Jose Emilio Abaya does not have the authority and jurisdiction to decide applications for fare hikes and issue orders for the implementation of such increases.
With JOMAR CANLAS