“As the Supreme Court continues to refuse to issue a TRO, we vow to present to the public more ways of participating in the protests. We call on the public to sustain our protests and continue to make our voices heard.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Some 50 members of commuters group Riles Laan sa Sambayanan (RILES) Network held a picket this morning during rush hour at the North Avenue train station of MRT to urge commuters to join their petition against the recent MRT fare hike.
Implemented since Jan. 5 this year, the 87-percent hike is under question in the Supreme Court. The said fare hike has been announced since the Aquino government took power, but public protests consistently foiled it. Last December, the Aquino government dodged these protests when it announced the Jan. 5 implementation of the hike during the holidays, “while the country was busy with Christmas and most government offices including the courts where consumers could lodge protests were closed,” said the protesters.
Consumer and sectoral groups questioned the timing of the hike’s announcement, but on the first working day of 2015, the Aquino government implemented the fare hike as announced during the holidays. Since then, students, workers and commuters groups have held picket protests in MRT and LRT stations, in front of the Department of Transportation and Communication, and in front of the Supreme Court.
Carrying on with these protests against fare hikes, Riles Network launched a signature drive for a rollback in fares and a stop to the train systems’ privatization today.
In an interview, Sammy Malunes, RILES Network spokesperson, said his group is hoping to gather one million signatures of MRT and LRT commuters, which they will present to the Supreme Court, the Department of Transportation and Communications, and other concerned government agencies.
Joining Riles Network in the signature drive are members of youth groups Anakbayan and League of Filipino Students, and national labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno.
Malunes urged the public, particularly the train riding public, to help show the Supreme Court and various government agencies “that we are calling for a rollback in fares and a stop to the train systems’ privatization.”
Last week the group picketed the gates of the Supreme Court to press the justices to issue a Temporary Restraining Order on the MRT and LRT fare hike. But the justices reportedly delayed ruling on the petition against the fare hike after the government asked for more time to study the petition.
“They said they have studied the fares and why they are hiking it, why do they have to ‘study it’ again? It only goes to show they don’t really know how to explain their fare hike,” Malunes told Bulatlat.com.
“As the Supreme Court continues to refuse to issue a TRO, we vow to present to the public more ways of participating in the protests. We call on the public to sustain our protests and continue to make our voices heard,” Malunes said.
Ills of privatization
Both the fare hike, worsening congestion and lack of maintenance of the MRT, which its own workers reported to have worsened under the Aquino government, are being blamed by RILES Network on the public-private partnership that controls and runs the MRT.
The said train system was built by government-guaranteed loans drawn by a private group who eventually reneged on paying these loans. The government under former Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo paid the said loan. But because of certain provisions in the build-lease-transfer agreement, the private conglomerate continued to hold the controlling “political” stake or decision-making powers in MRT.
Critics decried the “sweetheart contract” that gives the private concessionaire control over the MRT, plus the billion pesos of annual subsidy for its running and maintenance.
Until now, groups such as Bayan Muna Partylist and Bayan are demanding an investigation into how the MRT has been operating and how public funds allotted to it were being spent. Their calls were intensified especially after a series of accidents in the railway which they said highlighted the dilapidated state of the trains and railways despite the billions of funds being spent on its maintenance.
“Before proposing any increases, the high cost of operations and the large amount of debt incurred by the project should first be investigated, specifically on whether taxpayers are actually subsidizing debt incurred by the private consortium that built the MRT. There is need for government to look into the operational costs of the MRT and LRT lines to check if there might be excessive expenses or mismanagement of funds,” Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate has said in a statement after Bayan Muna picketed an MRT station late last month.
The Metro Rail Transit Corp. (MRTC) owns the facilities of the MRT-3 (or MRT) under a build-lease-transfer agreement. A business group led by Manny V. Pangilinan for his foreign investors currently claims the majority stake in MRTC. His group has also bagged last year’s privatization deal involving the LRT.
The maintenance of MRT, meanwhile, is being subcontracted by the Department of Transportation and Communication to other private groups.
The Aquino government, through its Transportation Secretary, has claimed many times the fare hike in the train system was for its improvement. Eventually, they said they will completely privatize the MRT, and they wanted to close the deal before the next elections of 2016.
But according to the RILES Network, the Aquino government’s excuses for the fare hikes fail to convince the public as more and more people know about how the train systems’ privatization will benefit just a few capitalists.
“We trust that more people will speak up and join protests against the fare hike because this is not about improving the train systems’ services, but about ensuring the profits of a few big capitalists,” Malunes said.