Palace stands firm on MRT-LRT fare hike

Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - January 7, 2015 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Unfazed by protests and a challenge before the Supreme Court, Malacañang stood firm yesterday on the fare increase in the Light Rail Transits 1 and 2 and the Metro Rail Transit 3, saying it would lead to better service.


Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. gave assurance that the upgrade of the LRT and MRT facilities would continue whatever the outcome of the petitions filed before the Supreme Court to stop the fare increase.

Coloma said important programs had been laid down to make the train commute for millions of Metro Manila residents safe and comfortable.

He said one of the major undertakings would be the MRT capacity expansion involving the purchase of 48 additional train coaches. This will cut travel and waiting time for passengers.

Coloma said new rail installation would also be a priority along with the upgrade of ancillary systems like power sub-stations, depot facilities for parking, construction of the  the North Avenue turnback and Taft Avenue pocket track extension, upgrade of signaling system, overhauling of 25 light rail vehicles, overhauling of traction motors and installation of new radio communications system.

The completion of these programs is set within the year and the process of procurement had begun, Coloma said.

Hernando Cabrera, spokesman for the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA), added the government is pursuing the replacement of old rails of the LRT-1 and MRT-3 worth close to P370 million as part of efforts to improve the condition of the mass transit system in the metropolis.

He said the government took delivery of 1,300 pieces of 18-meter rails last month for the P279- million LRT-1 rail replacement project.

Asked why the improvements took so long, Coloma said there had been shortcomings and glitches before that were now being addressed, including those involving maintenance service providers.

Coloma earlier said the hike in fares should not be linked to the upgrade of train facilities since there had been a budget for improvements even before the increase was finalized.

Moving forward, Coloma said it would be better to avoid the blame game and just proceed with what should be done for the sake of the safety and comfort of passengers.

Coloma said those who had shortcomings or who committed irregularities would be made accountable.

“On hindsight, there were weaknesses, there were mistakes; and there are processes to fix them, change them and make responsible those who made mistakes,” Coloma said.

“What we are just saying here is we cannot focus on pinning or assigning blame, getting mad at those who made mistakes or had shortcomings,” he noted.

Coloma said this was the reason why they again focused on service improvement projects, including those rendered on a daily basis such as expediting the sale of tickets so there would be no long queues in terminals.

Aside from improving the queuing system and lessening the time to purchase tickets, Coloma said other practical solutions would be done to ease the burden or sacrifices of train commuters.

“The funds and resources for all these projects have been allocated. These will not be affected should there be any legal action that will stay the implementation or reverse the implementation of the fare adjustments,” he said.

Coloma said it was important for people to be assured that services would improve in due time.


More petitions

On Monday, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the decision to increase the train fares might not be popular but it had to be done.

Lacierda emphasized the government had not completely cut its subsidy for the mass transport system but merely reduced it from P12 billion last year to P10 billion this year.

He said President Aquino explained that the subsidy for the LRT and MRT fares must be reduced so that the government could allocate its resources to regions not benefiting from LRT and MRT services.

Also on Monday, two separate petitions were filed before the Supreme Court seeking the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) or status quo ante order that would stop the train fare adjustments.

The petitions, filed by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and former Iloilo congressman Augusto Syjuco, also urged the SC to void a Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) order issued last month that allowed the increases.

The two petitioners said the fare hikes would only benefit the private firms operating the lines and that the move was a violation of the constitutional right to due process of millions of mass transit commuters.

Syjuco also said the DOTC approved the fare adjustment even without the private operators asking for it.

Two more petitions were filed yesterday by Bayan Muna and United Filipino Consumers and Commuters Inc. (UFCC), both seeking a TRO or status quo ante order stopping the implementation of the fare hike.

Both groups asked the high court to void the DOTC order last month allowing the increase.

Just like the first two petitions filed last Monday by Bayan and Syjuco, the two groups accused the DOTC of committing grave abuse of discretion in approving the increase and also of violating the constitutional right to due process of millions of mass transit commuters.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno gave assurance yesterday that the Supreme Court would look into the petitions.

SC spokesman Theodore Te said the high court would act on the issue based on the recommendation of the magistrate who will be in charge of the case.

Te declined to give a timeline on when a decision will be issued, but said the issue will have to go through the proper proceedings.

The petitions were filed while the SC was still on holiday recess. But while there is no session, the rules allow the Chief Justice to act on urgent petitions and issue relief like a TRO subject to consultation with other justices and affirmation when they resume session on Jan. 13.

Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento, chairman of the House committee on transportation, said the panel may seek a deferment of the unpopular MRT-LRT fare hikes “if warranted.”

Sarmiento issued the statement after opposition lawmakers warned that the hearing of the committee on the issue on Thursday might only be used by Malacañang to justify the fare hikes as the panel is dominated by administration allies.

“If there’s really a need for us to ask for a deferment, we will ask for it,” he said.

The lawmaker said the panel might also look into proposals to create an agency to approve or reject applications for fare adjustments of the LRT and MRT.

Last Dec. 20, the DOTC issued Department Order No 2014-014 setting the new fares for the country’s three major mass transport systems in the metropolis starting Jan. 4.

The DOTC has decided to adopt a uniform distance-based fare scheme for MRT-3 as well as for LRT-1 and LRT-2 pursuant to the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan.

Based on the new matrices, end-to-end trips on LRT-1 (Baclaran to Roosevelt) and LRT-2 (Recto to Santolan) will increase from P20 to P30 and P15 to P25, respectively.

End-to-end trips on MRT-3 (North Avenue to Taft Avenue), meanwhile, will increase from P15 to P28. – Edu Punay, Janvic Mateo, Paolo Romero, Lawrence Agcaoili, Mike Frialde, Non Alquitran

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