By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — In a recent interview with TV and radio broadcaster Ted Failon, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda attempted to justify the Aquino government’s approval of the toll-fee increases by saying that it was all in accordance with its wish to “honor the commitments of the government with private investors.”
Lawyer Ernesto Francisco, who has tried to block these increases, looked weary as he reacted to this during an interview with Bulatlat.com.
Apart from ‘Shocking’ 300% Toll-Fee Hike, Philippines Has to Account for Dramatic Jump in SLEX Project Cost
From an initial projected cost of P4 billion in 2006, the cost of expanding and improving the South Luzon Expressway jumped dramatically to P12.5 billion by last year. This cost is being used to justify the increase in toll fees – an imposition that many view as not only patently anti-poor but the result as well of “evident corruption.”
“I see nothing wrong if President Aquino wants to honor the Philippine government’s commitments to foreign investors, but what about his commitments to the Filipino people?” Francisco said.
“His spokespersons say that the collections from the increased tool fees will be used for official purposes — na may paggagamitan — but my question is, what about the ordinary folk who will be burdened by the toll fee increases, the fare hikes: Sila ba walang paggagamitan dun sa perang mababawas sa maliliit na nga nilang kita?”
Francisco said that while he was disappointed when Aquino gave a cautious thumbs-up to the toll -ee hikes, he was not at all surprised.
“Can we expect anything extraordinary from Noynoy Aquino? I’m not certain about that. Look at his track record. He was a lackadaisical, inactive congressman and senator. He was unexpectedly propelled to the presidency, and he did run on a platform of change; but so far it has been the same kind of government setup where business interests take the front seat ahead of the public good,” he said.
“If we had an extraordinary president, a president who was willing to assert on the side of minimum wage earners, ordinary Filipinos and not side with big business, then maybe something new and good can happen. The question is, will President Aquino do the extraordinary?” he added.
He has also written a letter to Aquino on the toll-hike issue, saying that the latter’s defense of the increases stemmed from wrong information about the laws and regulations concerning the toll system. Francisco said a lawyer from the Office of the Deputy Executive Secretary informed that Aquino wanted to hear his (Francisco’s) input on the issue and that a briefing paper is in the works for the president and Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr.
“I suppose it’s a positive sign that he’s willing to listen, but because he’s surrounded by officials and advisers who have high-profile business connections or by themselves involved in business interests….” he said.
“He has surrounded himself with the same old faces, the same people with business connections, business interests,” Francisco pointed out. “He is heeding their advice and, for the most part, the advice goes against what is good for the public.”