Traffic congestion and fare increases


I mentioned in my column last week that there were businesses and individuals who were out to cash in on people’s miseries. This still holds true relative to the traffic-related problems plaguing Metro Manila.

Traffic is a noun, not an adjective

Base definition first. A lot of Filipinos lament, “Traffic na naman,” or “There’s traffic everywhere.” Of course there will be traffic everywhere. The simplest definition of traffic is this: it is the movement of vehicles along a road or public highway. Generally, it applies to movement of things along a specific area – vehicles along a street, airplanes through an air lane, ships over a water route, even pedestrians walking on a path, etc.

Traffic is described as light, moderate, or heavy. Traffic is light if the movement of vehicles is fast. Traffic is heavy if the movement of vehicles is slow. There is no traffic if there are no vehicles on the road.

Petition to increase the fares

Several transport groups are contemplating filing their petitions (if they have not already done so) to allow them to increase their fares. The primary reason being cited is the heavy traffic and the measures being done to alleviate the problem.

The Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) recently issued a memorandum circular prohibiting UV Express shuttles from traversing Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) at all times, except when crossing it. As expected, UV Express drivers and operators are up in arms against that prohibition. In response, they said that UV Express fares should be increased to compensate for their longer trips and probably lesser passengers. So, who would suffer paying the higher fares? Certainly it will be the poor and lowly commuters who will eventually carry the burden of higher fares.

Incidentally, the present operator of the Light Rail Transit – Line 1 (LRT1), Light Rail Manila Corporation (LRMC), according to militant groups, had petitioned the government to allow it to implement a fare increase of about 10 percent in the said rail line.

Bayan Muna alleges onerous contract

In a radio interview on August 9, 2016, Ka Nato Reyes of Bayan Muna alleged that the contract executed by and between LRMC and the then Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), now DOTr, is onerous and grossly disadvantageous to the government and to the Filipino people.

Ka Nato said in the vernacular, “Hindi mamatay-matay ang isyung fare increase [dahil]ito ay bahagi na kasing kontrata na pinasok ng dating administrasyon, na pinirmahan ni Abaya at sinang-ayunan ni Aquino, na magkaroon ng automatic fare adjustment tuwing dalawang taon [at]pwede sila magtaas ng 10% na tatagal ng 30 taon. Pag hindi naitaas ang pamasahe, ang gobyerno ang mag-aabono [at]taxpayers ang magbabayad. Iyan po ay napaka-onerous. We are wondering kung bakit si Secretary Tugade [ay]hindi pa nagsasagawa ng masusing review sa kontratang LRT1. Mukha yatang handa sila na i-honor o itaguyod itong mga hindi tama na probisyon.”

(This issue of fare increase will not die because this is a part of the contract entered into by the previous administration, signed by Abaya and approved by Aquino, that allows an automatic fare adjustment every two years, up to 10 percent, which will last for 30 years. If they cannot increase the fares, then the government has to pay them the difference and the taxpayers will be the ones to shoulder the same. This is too onerous. We are wondering why Secretary Tugade is not doing a thorough review of this LRT1 contract. It seems that they will honor it and will follow even the questionable provisions of the contract.)

Conflict of interest

Ka Nato further observed that the appointment of Noel Eli Kintanar, as undersecretary for Rails at the DOTr, is a clear case of conflict of interest.

He said, “Matagal na naming nilalabanan ang kontratang ito. Hindi naman kami pinanganak kahapon para hindi mag-isip na posibleng ang mga posisyon sa gobyerno ang maaaring gamitin para sa kagustuhan at interes ng pribadong sektor. We want the whole contract to be reviewed. We want the entire contract and the provisions that are disadvantageous to the public na pinasok ng nakaraang administrasyon na marepaso ng kasalukuyang administrasyon. How will that happen if the person who is in-charge of the rails ay bahagi din ng kontratang iyan? Anumang magiging desisyon ng DOTC ay may epekto sa mga commuters for the next 30 years.”

(We have been opposing this contract for a long time. We were not born yesterday so as not to think that government positions might be used to advance the interests of the private sector. We want the whole contract to be reviewed. We want the entire contract and the provisions that are disadvantageous to the public that was entered into by the previous administration to be reviewed by the present administration. How will that happen if the person who is in-charge of the rails is part of that contract? Whatever DOTC decides to do will have an effect on the commuters for the next 30 years.)

Invited to join DOTr

For his part, Mr. Kintanar argued that there is no conflict of interest because he is not the one deciding on these things. He claimed that he only advises the Secretary of Transport and it does not mean that the Secretary cannot decide on his own. He likewise defended himself by saying that the contract being discussed was all done by the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA).

Mr. Kintanar replied, “Ang LRTA po ang nag [publish ng]Invitation to Bid. Ang LRTA po ang [naglabas ng]Instruction to Bidders. Ang kontrata, lahat nanggaling sa LRTA.
Gobyerno po ang naglagay niyan. You have to ask Secretary Abaya bakit siya pumayag. We try to focus on fixing the problems. We are trying our best. Nag resign ako sa Ayala. Hamak na empleyado lamang ako.Hindi po nangangahulugan na ako ang may-ari ng Ayala.”

(LRTA published the Invitation to Bid. The LRTA issued the Instruction to Bidders. The contract, everything came from LRTA. It is the government that placed those provisions.

You have to ask Secretary Abaya why he allowed that. We try to focus on fixing the problems. We are trying our best. I resigned from Ayala. I am a mere employee. It does not mean that I own Ayala.)

Mr. Kintanar closed the interview by emphasizing that it was Secretary Tugade who invited him to join DOTr. He added that President Duterte, in his inaugural speech, set a policy in moving forward and working with existing contracts, and “the department, of course, has to deal with these contracts, has to work within the policy framework set by the President.”

Undersecretary Noel Kintanar used to be a part of the LRMC, not as an ordinary employee (contrary to his pronouncements), but as a key official. A check of the website of LRMC reveals a picture posted there showing the officials of LRMC, with Mr. Kintanar, as one of the key signatories for the corporation, during the signing of a multibillion loan agreement with several banks.

Senate hearing on emergency powers

The Senate Public Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Grace Poe, conducted its first hearing on August 10, 2016 relative to the emergency powers being sought by the President to solve the gargantuan traffic problems in the metropolis.

When queried on the 10 percent fare increase, Secretary Tugade retorted, “Wala ho kaming planong ganyan. (We do not have such plans.)” There you are, Ka Nato. No fare increase for the moment. However, will the government pay the deficit to LRMC when we are not watching?

The officials of DOTr laid down their supposed plans and solutions in case the emergency powers are granted. Well, as usual, some of those plans were already in place since 2012 – but the previous officials of the DOTC and even those of Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) – chose to ignore, if not reject, those. Now, the MMDA is singing a different tune. (I will dwell on this in my next insights.)

Nevertheless, I concur with the opinion of Ka Nato. There are some contracts entered into by the previous administration that are laden with problems. We should not play blind and deaf and allow these contracts to continue in spite of the legitimate complaints of concerned Filipinos. It is the duty of this administration to look into these contracts, review these contracts, and consult those who are opposing them. The President, during his campaign, promised that, “Change is coming.” That is what we want to see at the DOTr.

Yes, I agree with Ted Failon when he said in jest after the interview that the “proof of the pudding is in the eating.” What will Mr. Kintanar do with this onerous contract, which involved him as one of the original actors? Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Let us wait and see.

* * *

Thank you, Mr. Romy Mahirang for sharing with me the 911 emergency hotline experience of Canada. He sent me an email from Alberta, Canada. This was in response to my insights last week. Many thanks to you.

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  1. Yes! Ano ang ginawa mo during your time. Correct it with another wrong. This “conflict of interest”, you said been signed before–then it has to be honor. That it the problem it Phil. signed and agreed on the contract before seeing any irregularities, then say it is foul and seek TRO and or change and or make a 360 degrees turn around–not honoring the contract midway. Why can’t people who made and or enter into contract check, double check, study hundred folds, announce to the public before signing. Again, “easy to fix the blame but hard to fix the problem”. Are you not the one who have also been charge with “conflict of interest” with APT Global and another incorporated company, (correct me if I am wrong). PHL will not be able to get out of this problem. Because we always deal with past (without learning from it) sour griping, discuss and dwell on negatives (still not learning from it) instead of moving forward.