“The Aquino government has kept on trying to implement this fare hike but has failed to actually implement one. It knows how badly this will affect the public and how this will make the public really angry at the government.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – After President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III shall have delivered his fourth state of the nation address (SONA) on July, Metro Manila commuters using the MRT and LRT (Metro Rail Transit and Light Rail Transit) will have to start paying higher fares in the following week. Transportation Sec. Joseph Emilio Abaya said as much last Thursday June 20.
Amid the immediate public reaction against it, Abaya cut by half the P10 ($0.23) hike, but only for this year. By next year, the full P10 increase would still be implemented.
The announced hike in MRT and LRT fares drew protest actions from various groups this Monday June 24, with more slated to be held, they warned the Aquino government.
“The Aquino government has kept on trying to implement this fare hike but has failed to actually implement one. It knows how badly this will affect the public and how this will make the public really angry at the government,” said Sammy Malunes, former union president of LRT employees and current spokesman of RILES Network, one of the groups that protested in front of the Department of Transportation and Communication. The group has periodically held protest actions against the planned fare hike. It had also gathered signatures for petitions against the fare hike in various train stations in the past.
RILES Network slammed the DOTC and Aquino for miserably failing in their job of making sure the Filipinos’ rights to an affordable, efficient and safe mass transport system are respected and advanced. “It is in fact the duty of the government to subsidize such a transport system,” Malunes reminded the DOTC.
The planned hike is meant to cover the amount the government is now refusing to put into the operation of the trains.
Fare hike to cover state-guaranteed private profits?
The RILES Network said there are alternatives to raising train fares, alternatives which, it said, would not disadvantage the riding public while private operators running the railway system are steadily assured of big profits. It urged the Aquino government to renegotiate contracts with the private service providers regarding the MRT and LRT, “with the objective of reducing subsidy that go to business profits and increasing subsidy for the trains’ improvement.”
At present, these train fares are state-owned but under various contracts with private operators. The MRT private operators, for example, have secured from the government a guaranteed 15-percent rate of return on investment annually, among other business opportunities in connection with the railways. The LRT line up for privatization (and line-extension) and one of the biggest under Aquino’s PPP deals, is offering to private bidders a deal with even cushier state guarantees toward earning huge profits.
Bayan said the fare hike, as previously announced already by the government, is meant to cover the gap in LRT and MRT revenues that would result from the government’s subsidy reduction. The P6 billion to P9 billion ($146.3 million to $219.5 million) annual subsidy has reportedly been used to pay for the debts incurred by the train lines, while the private operators reap profits from operating the train systems.
As such, many questions hound the issue of these debts, and the privatization contracts for the transfer of MRT and LRT operations to private firms. Groups such as Bayan have previously assailed the government for consistently making the public pay dearly for the investments and operations of public services, while private firms that took over its operations reaped their state-guaranteed profits.
Divulge financials of MRT, LRT
While their fellow protesters were conducting a picket at the DOTC, Bayan submitted a letter of request addressed to DOTC Secretary Joseph Abaya seeking details of the fare increase such as “copies of all proposals and studies regarding the proposed fare hike, including simulations, financial reports, and feasibility studies.”
Bayan demanded to know “how the figures for the fare hike were arrived at and where the fare hike revenues will go.” The group dismissed the sweetener earlier dangled by the DOTC and the LRTA – that there will be improvements in services and line extension for LRT in Cavite and Rizal.
The hike in train fares has been one of the regular topics in the transportation department’s budget justifications in Congress. Often, the department secretary explained the hike as needed so they could spend the budget on other things.
As Malacañang sought to allay fears of the impending hike with an assurance the public would be consulted, the protesters requested copies “of any existing rules of procedure regarding public consultations or public hearings, as well as the legal basis by which the DOTC and LRTA [Light Rail Transit Authority] can fix rates for train lines.”
Herman Tiu Laurel, a businessman and also a spokesman of the RILES Network, said they will surely attend those public consultations.