LAWMAKERS took up the cudgels for rail commuters on Sunday, calling the government a “traitor” for suddenly increasing fares in the Light Rail Transit 1, LRT 2 Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT 3) and urging the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to stop implementing the fare adjustment.
The most scathing criticism came from Sen. Grace Poe, who compared the government to “Judas” for its sneaky implementation of the rate increase.
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.
“For me, the timing of the fare increase 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],” she added.
The senator wants the 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.
The 2015 General Appropriations Act (GAA) signed recently by President Benigno Aquino 3rd allotted P4.65 billion train subsidy, P7.94 billion for MRT 3 rehabilitation and P4.67 billion for unpaid MRT 3 taxes.
The train systems also received an additional P1.21 billion for MRT 3 rehabilitation and capacity extension and P728 million for the rehabilitation of LRT 1 and LRT 2 from the P22.4-billion supplemental budget.
Poe blasted the DOTC for its “deceitful” timing in implementing the new fare rates, coming at a time when the people have no recourse because of the long holiday break.
She said Congress could have allocated the P4.65 billion MRT/LRT subsidy to other priority programs of the government if the DOTC had informed them of its plan to increase fares.
Poe added that she sees no reason for the government to stop its subsidy, noting that Congress allocated enough funds in this year’s P2.606 trillion budget for other priority projects of the government including those for Visayas and Mindanao.
Malacañang had said retaining government subsidy for the three rail lines would not be fair to taxpayers in Visayas and Mindanao.
But Poe countered that Congress has been supporting projects in Visayas and Mindanao even if portions of funds for such projects come from the taxpayers of Luzon and Metro Manila.
“We have enough funds to support projects in other parts of the country and we should not stop the subsidy just because [the three railway lines are]only beneficial to the residents of Metro Manila,” she noted.
Sen. Francis Escudero agreed with Poe, saying the Senate will invite DOTC officials to explain their actions and discuss ways to stop implementation of the fare adjustment.
“We will ask the commitment of the DOTC to stop the fare increase because I don’t see any reason to justify the adjustments. Financially and practically, there is no basis, the worst part is that train commuters don’t expect to benefit from it also,” Escudero added.
He noted that the decision to increase rates was “very wrong” because no public hearing was conducted which would have given rail commuters the chance to oppose the plan to raise fares.
Several groups headed by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) will troop to the Supreme Court (SC) today to file a petition for certiorari in a bid to stop the DOTC from continuing to implement the fare adjustments.
Multisectoral and professional organizations RILES Network, TREN, government employees, health workers, students and labor groups will assert that the train lines are public utilities that are subject to regulation.
But Malacañang on Sunday ignored calls to halt the fare increases.
“Bahagi din po ng ating ipinapatupad na Philippine Development Plan for 2011 to 2016 ‘yung prinsipyo na ‘user pay.’ Dapat ‘yung gumagamit ng serbisyo ay magbabayad ng malaking bahagi ng kanilang biyahe at ito na nga po ang ipinupunto rin na ang tuwirang nakikinabang lamang sa serbisyong ito ay ‘yung mga naninirahan sa National Capital Region at hindi naman po ang buong populasyon ng ating bansa. Kaya ‘yon pong pagbabago sa singil sa MRT/LRT ay paglalagay lang po sa tamang kaayusan ng ating patakaran sa pagsingil at pagsasaayos ng resources na ginagamit para patuloy na mapahusay ang serbisyo para dito [The fare increases are part of the Philippine Development Plan for 2011 to 2016 under the principle of ‘user pay.’ Those who avail of the service should pay more and it should be pointed out that residents of the National Capital Region (NCR or Metro Manila), not the entire country, are benefiting from the train service. The fare increases are meant to improve the service],” Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.
Coloma added that the Palace respects the position of organizations who are against the fare adjustment. He, however, called on the public to remain calm and avoid violence in expressing their thoughts and views.
“Nananawagan po ang pamahalaan sa lahat ng lalahok sa isasagawang kilos protesta na isaalang-alang ang pangkalahatang kapakanan ng mga mamamayan sa kanilang pagtitipon at huwag sanang maging sagabal sa daloy ng trapiko, maging sa maayos na pagbibiyahe ng ating mga kababayan. Maximum tolerance ang paiiralin ng ating pulisya bilang pagtalima sa rules of conduct at pagkilala sa karapatang magsagawa ng lehitimong pagkilos [We call on protesters opposing the fare adjustments not to obstruct traffic as to inconvenience the people. The police will exercise maximum tolerance in dealing with the demonstrators],” he said.
Coloma added that the implementation of the fare hike was “a matter of political will” and aims to institute reforms and improvements in the aging railway systems.