THERE is no kind way to say this, so I will be blunt: The period in which the Philippines was obliged to accommodate the whiny complaints of “transport groups” about anything that even remotely affects their operating costs expired sometime last century, and if their latest ululations – this time, about the impact of the government’s planned upward adjustment of fuel excise taxes – are worth of any response at all, it should be to simply tell them to put up or shut up.
In a “manifesto” sent to the office of President Rodrigo Duterte this week, the transport activists of Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON), Unified Organization of Drivers and Transport Operators Nationwide, Kilusan sa Pagbabago sa Industriya ng Transportasyon, Federation of Jeepneys Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines (FEJODA), and the Alliance of Concerned Transport Organizations (ACTO), threatened that the base fares for jeepney passengers would have to be raised to as much as P12 (from P8.50 now) because the new excise tax on fuel products will add P6.75 per liter and P5.65 per liter to the price of diesel and gasoline, respectively.
Stressing their importance as the linchpin of the entire Philippine economy, the jeepney drivers warned, “With the increase in transport cost, labor organizations will ask for wage increases, which will in turn result in an increase in prices of basic goods and services.”
Of the various revenue measures proposed by the present administration, the revamp of the fuel excise tax—which involves imposing a long-overdue base increase, and then indexing the rate to inflation—is the most sensible, particularly for this country that relies heavily on imported fuel. Even with the increase, which Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno estimated would result in P60 billion in additional revenue for the government, the Philippines would still be comparatively kind to vehicle owners, imposing lower fuel taxes than most of the rest of the Asean countries.
The increase in fuel taxes will have some significant effects, not all of them positive, depending on one’s point of view. Prices of many goods and services will, indeed, increase, because of increased transportation costs for goods; any increase in wages as a result of higher fares is highly unlikely, and would in any case be the proverbial drop in the bucket compared to the increased costs of moving freight. The increase in fuel taxes will make all vehicles more expensive to operate, and the increase will be directly proportional to the inefficiency of the vehicle; those operating low-efficiency, outdated equipment—in other words, most of the stakeholders whose whims are represented by the aforementioned transport groups—will pay proportionally more.
That latter implication— that increased operating costs will potentially price some vehicles that shouldn’t be on the road in the first place out of existence—is one of the big advantages of increased fuel excise taxes. The additional revenue, which should ideally be devoted primarily to spending on transportation infrastructure, is obviously another benefit.
For years, efforts to develop better public transit systems have been stymied by the unaccountable belief that the lowest common denominator—aptly represented by what I had to follow for a couple of kilometers on my way home from the office last night, a rolling wreck with no functioning lights and a top speed that would see it outrun by the Rose Bowl Parade—must be maintained at all costs. The commuting public, however, has shown a great affinity for better options as they have slowly become available; the city’s light rail lines, point-to-point bus routes, and services like the Airport Loop and the “Green Frog” hybrid buses connecting Makati with the Mall of Asia area all operate at peak capacity or beyond as soon as they are introduced, even with fares several times higher than comparable jeepney routes.
The clamor the transport groups claim to represent, evidently, is not from the public but from a narrow special interest pursuing a business model that cannot operate without significant public subsidy. That is a situation that should no longer be tolerated, and does not need to be. If the jeepney operators can’t find a way to live and work in the 21st century, it is high time they get out of the rest of the country’s way.