The government’s Kristallnacht on the bus people

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Marlen V. Ronquillo

Marlen V. Ronquillo

Jun Florida has the hands of a man who has enjoyed very few comforts in life, rough and grease-stained. What he owns and operates, Florida Lines, is an inspiring“ up-from-the-bootstrap” story. His bus firm was built from the ground up, one bus and one terminal at a time. On the day he realized there was stability in his operations, he started equipping his major terminals with basketball courts. Basketball is his other passion. After work, he plays full court games with his employees.

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I don’t think he has ever set foot in Makati’s ritzy shopping and dining establishments. Does he have connections to the powerful and the mighty? Does he know somebody in the position of power? I do not know. But this I am sure of: Never in his hardworking life had he mingled with the Arcache/Litton crowd, the perfumed “dahlings.” He is the representative of the self-made man who has hurdled the toughest of odds to build an enterprise and contribute, as the cliché goes, to nation building.

Melissa Lim is a medical doctor by training, which means she has sworn to preserve the sanctity of human lives. Her dream was to get a residency at the UP PGH after graduating from medical school. With the PGH residency slots so tight, and having told herself, “PGH or nothing,” she decided to go into business. First, it was hardware supply, then bus operations. Hard work and a natural distaste for high-living brought her to where she is now, a major bus operator in Metro Manila.

The work ethic and down-to-earth lives of these two people are an amazing story.

After a bus each of the two figured in tragedies—and the bloviators on TV pictured them as worse than the pork barrel criminals—the Palace dramatically entered into the scene with a seamless segue. “Hit them where it hurts.” This was meant as a marching order for the regulatory agencies to turn the full screws on the operators—a Kristallnacht of sorts on two people who in their day-to-day lives do nothing but employ people, contribute to the economy, quietly and without fanfare.

Janet Napoles was welcomed at the Palace. The Palace, knee-jerking as usual, has launched its Kristallnacht on two of the most hardworking, productive people in the republic. Cancel the franchise of Don Mariano Transit for good. Hit Florida Transit where it hurts most. And the general public largely lauded the move. The netizens chimed in with choruses of support.

The Public Service Law, or its just penalties on companies that figure in accidents, has been largely drowned by the public uproar to send to bus operators to the guillotine. The law does not apparently apply on the bus people.

Why are the bus people at the receiving end of the law’s most brutal punishment and why is the public chiming its support to send bus people to the guillotine?

The first reason is that they are mostly low-profile business people who built their enterprises from scratch and they are unconnected to the power grid. It is quite easy for the government and the public to portray them as criminals or recidivists. The media is an abettor. As members of the middle class (or pretending to be middle class), the media generally loathe the buses and the supposed jams the buses cause on the major roads.

In developed societies, it is different. All discussions are on mass transport. And movement of people through private vehicles has been rendered as a topic for the 20th century. Buses and rail, if not walking and biking. These are the transport issues that animate the policy discussions in developed societies.

The bus industry has also been a convenient straw man when the government, the public and the media want to fight a villain.

In case a tycoon-owned mining pit broke open to despoil the environment and cause a thousand silent, slow deaths in the communities affected, what would follow is a thousand hearings and investigations. Never would the tycoon be portrayed as a criminal in the mass media. The shutdown of the affected mines would be temporary.

In case a tycoon-owned utility is found engaged in price gouging and manipulation, there would be inquiries and investigations. But would the government dare cancel the franchise for good? No and never. Do you know of a major utility franchise that has been cancelled by government over the most outrageous of transgressions?

Going back to Napoles, even she was given an audience at the Palace.

While mass transport is a top-of-mind/priority policy issue in most developed economies, here the bus sector—which is the de facto form of mass transport in the country and the only viable form of mass transport—is below the radar. It only emerges into the public sphere during punishment season when the government wants to wage a Kristallnacht against erring business people and when the public wants to flog an imaginary villain.

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4 Comments

  1. josephine de castro on

    true. why dont they just suspended the franchise for a certain time, revoke the liscense of the driver but dont shut down the business of the operator who works hard,taken the livelihood of the owner and the employess. not all bus operator had enough capital to buy new busses as what the dotc new policies. howabout those ower who had loan for the new units and then all of there franchise revoked? saan sila kukuha ng pera para pambayad sa bangko , sa mga employees. bakit di yan naiisip ni sec. mar roxas bago implement and kanyang mga policies. dito sa amin marami na nagsara na bus co. at iise na lang ang hari sa lansangan………….. i think the president should knew the sentiments of the small buss operator na walang kakilala sa itaas, walang politician na kamag-anak at walang gaanong capital na makipagcompete sa malalaking bus co. sana namn huwag husgahan ang mga operator pag may mga aksidente kasi di namn nila gusto na mangyari yan. god bless!

  2. victor hernandez on

    Life is complicated, and can be segmented. The rich and well-connected, and the not so rich, and poor and not well-conneced. Very many reacted against the bus drivers and operators involved in road accidents.The Florida, and Lim bus operators are immediately pilloried in mass media, and by LTFRB, though they entitled to due process. There are laws that will deal with the mishaps, which involved their bus operation, yet they are pilloried nonetheless. What is lacking is compassion on them, besides on the victims. Understanding the operators’s situation, and how they built and grew their transport enterprises give a compassionate dimension of situation. Nontheless, as their business grow, improving its management will ensure that it will grow to be socially responsible, and safe for their riding public. Government should consider looking at this aspect, as it should to all the other small and medium enterprises, and helping them improve their mangement capability, to enable them to grow and to be socially responsible as well. It should not stop at just giving them a franchise to operate a public convenience.

  3. I agree with you on this, its the governemnt who should shoulder the responsibility of bad drivers in this country,. Most drivers here in the philippines are useless & totally ignore the law. Cyclists seem as dumb as concrete blocks with riduiing at night without lights, & thinking whatever they want to do on the road is acceptable & the same goes with every other road user, tricycle driver, motorcycle driver, car driver, van driver, bus driver & lrry driver. I see it instantly when i leave my house from everyone inside the subdivision to then outside my subdivision. Its a complete shambles & needs to start at the bottom & work up. Make a strict driving test like in the uk where both theory & practical re parts of the test. Then 2 or 3 or 4 years experience before you can become a bus or lorry driver but with also a driving test & special licence to drive each of them. Then you need to have fines & points for every offence, people in this country need to lear responsibility means also them not only others.

  4. Nice column Marlene. Meralco, Water Utilities and power sellers have killed people daily than what the people and govt can imagine thru their atrocious high prices. Meralco and its Water arm solely decide who will have electric and water meter with a cost of at least P5 thousand pesos each. If you are poor or your house is of light material even if constructed on a willing private land will not be given both Electricity and Water dahil fire hazard daw. Even the local govt is in collusion with these Utilities who will refuse Electrical Permit. Result- Illegal connections or more theft of both electricity and water. Oh I forgot sorry the reason they were never in hot water coz of huge campaign funds.