“The government must be responsible to the transportation workers, the passengers and the communities.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — Commuter group Riles Laan sa Sambayanan (RILES) Network staged a protest at the España station of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) this morning, January 4, in time for the first year of the Light Railway Transit-Metro Rail Transit (LRT-MRT) fare hikes. In a dramatization of what they feel the president and his transport secretary should be doing these days, following what they described as another of their broken promises to the public, they “showed” the said leaders as being run over by a train.
They reminded President Aquino and Transportation Sec. Emilio Abaya of their promise to be run over by a train if their boasts about train improvement did not materialize following the increase in fare hike and privatization.
At the PNR España station, commuters cheered at the sight of protesters as some of them wore masks depicting the faces of President Aquino and Abaya. The protesters lay on railroad tracks as their colleagues blasted the government’s dismal work on mass transportation.
In 2013, Aquino bragged about completing the LRT-1 Cavite Extension by 2015, but that did not happen, prompting a RILES Network statement saying it “exposes the Aquino government’s failure to deliver on its promises especially with regard to transportation.”
Sammy Malunes, spokesperson for the RILES Network, said false promises are business as usual for the Aquino administration. Malunes was former president of LRT employees’ union. He was laid off along with other unionists following their strike against the LRT privatization.
Malunes blamed the worsening of transportation and traffic under Aquino’s term to its neglect of MRT and LRT, and its operators’ drive for profit before public service.
Just getting a copy of the LRT 1 privatization contract, on which the Aquino government made the “vow” of improvement or they’d allow themselves to be run over by trains, had not been an easy road for groups such as the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).
In a post in social media, Renato Reyes Jr., Bayan secretary general, said that in response to their request: “The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) told us to first explain to them where we will use the copy of that contract. They claimed that the right to information is not absolute. And that, also, we have filed a case against the DOTC in the Supreme Court.”
RILES Network and other groups such as Bayan had also urged the Supreme Court, a year ago, to issue a Temporary Restraining Order against the fare hike. It also called for an end to privatization of rail systems and for the government to takeover instead the LRT-MRT and the PNR.
It said the fare hikes disproportionately affect the poor. The group cited a study conducted as early as 2007 showing that nearly seven in every 10 riders of LRT and MRT were earning less than P 10,000 ($212)monthly, or P385 (($8.20) per day of a 26-day work month. It said there was never a significant wage hike granted since the time of the study, yet the government still went ahead and raised fares despite public protest.
That the DOTC did not dare increase fares for 2016 owes much to increasing public pressure, Malunes said. “They’re waiting for public pressure to subside before raising the fares again. We can’t let that happen.”
The RILES Network wants the government to take back its duty of providing an affordable and efficient transportation for the public.
“The government must be responsible to the transportation workers, the passengers and the communities,” its statement said. The group reminded the government that these sectors must also be taken into account as stakeholders in decisions concerning public transport.
If majority of the poor riders are low-earners, majority also of communities set to be displaced in the subsequent construction and “improvement” of the LRT are poor families. RILES Network suggests their inclusion in government consideration of various impact of its projects.
In the recent economic briefing dubbed as “Bird Talk” by the Ibon Foundation, it reports that “around 2,000 families will be displaced by the LRT-1 Extension and Operations and Maintenance project and 10,000 urban poor families aside from farming families will be displaced by the MRT-7 project in Bulacan, Caloocan, and Quezon City.”
So the government can start considering workers, passengers and communities as stakeholders too, it has to take over the LRT-MRT and PNR, RILES Network said in its statement. It added that “we also need to make serious changes in the institutions for greater transparency and responsiveness to people’s needs.”