Palace: Only a few oppose LRT, MRT fare hike

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Only a few are against the hefty increase in train fares and lawmakers have even supported the move because the government is doing the right thing to improve transport services, Malacañang maintained yesterday.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said while there are people opposing the fare hike, there are those who understand the need for it and support it.

“And one important group that supports the fare hike of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) is the lawmakers in the House of Representatives,” Coloma said in Filipino.

Among the House members who want an increase in train fares are Representatives Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar, Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City, Oscar Rodriguez of Pampanga, Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte, Eric Singson of Ilocos Sur, Cesar Sarmiento of Catanduanes and Joaquin Chipeco Jr. of Laguna.

“They expressed support. They were elected by the people, so we also need to acknowledged that many groups and sectors of the population are supporting the LRT and MRT fare hike,” Coloma said in Filipino.

He also maintained that the government is doing the right thing and the fare hike is long overdue.

“Because of the long time that we have been implementing low train fares, the current and past administrations were not able to take necessary actions to improve train services like buying new coaches and upgrading the facilities of our mass transport,” he explained.

Fare hike, transport officials hit

But Senators Francis Escudero and Grace Poe and other House members slammed the huge increase in train fares and the officials behind it, saying the Aquino administration cannot force Filipinos to accept it when they have been getting poor service and even life-threatening rides from the rail systems.

Parañaque City Rep. Gustavo Tambunting said the government, particularly the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), must first fix the many issues hounding the MRT before increasing the fares.

He said one of the reasons for the poor quality of the MRT is the lack of teamwork between the DOTC and APT Global, the private contractor holding the maintenance contract for the MRT.

“People are willing to pay for good service, but if you have worn-down tracks, open train doors, and broken elevators at the stations, it becomes unfair to ask passengers to pay more for the same kind of poor service,” Tambunting stressed.

‘Senate can address subsidy problem’

Escudero pointed out that the Senate could have put in more funds to cover subsidy when it looked into the P2 billion in supplemental funds to improve rail and signaling systems.

Apart from that amount, there is another P3 billion also for MRT and LRT and another P7 billion for rehabilitation that have been accorded under unprogrammed funds of the 2015 budget, Escudero noted.

He concluded that the fare hikes are unwarranted since there is enough money for the rehabilitation and maintenance of the train systems under the 2015 budget.

Escudero and Poe also recalled that transportation officials and representatives of firms involved in the maintenance of the train systems dodged the issue of increasing fares during the Senate public hearings in the last quarter of 2014. And neither did they raise the issue, the senators noted.

Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya was non-committal when asked by the media during the past Senate hearings last year whether the fare increases would be implemented.

Escudero said the congressional oversight committee conducting hearings on the MRT led by Sen. Sergio Osmeña III would likely call for another hearing within the month to ask concerned sectors on the fare increases.

Escudero expressed hope that the Senate can get some answers on the rationale behind the fare hikes, especially after Congress approved a supplemental budget to cover MRT and LRT rehabilitation.

“I do not know who are the geniuses behind this scheme,” he quipped.

He explained that the Senate can intervene only in terms of the conduct of public hearings. He also noted that the implementation of fare hikes did not undergo public consultations since the DOTC depended on 2011 estimates.

Poe reminded the riding public that they can take the case to the Supreme Court to stop the implementation of the fare hike. A temporary restraining order from the SC can defer any fare increase or at least cushion its impact.

But Coloma said that while the government respects the decision of some commuters’ groups to file before the SC a petition against the fare increase, government lawyers are ready to defend it.

Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon and Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares hit what they said was the “twisted logic of Malacañang” to justify the burdensome fare hikes that tend to blackmail and sow divisiveness among the people. – Delon Porcalla, Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez


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