'People are suffering': House transportation panel tackles commuters' rights bill
Heavy traffic is seen on the northbound lane of EDSA-Cubao's underpass.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman

'People are suffering': House transportation panel tackles commuters' rights bill

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - January 20, 2021 - 3:56pm

MANILA, Philippines — A year removed from the emergence of the coronavirus in December 2019, little has been done to alleviate the country's history of worsening mobility, advocates and lawmakers said Wednesday. 

At the meeting of the House committee on transportation, lawmakers tackled the proposed commuters' rights bills filed with the end goal of improving commuter welfare in the Philippines. 

"Quality of life is compromised by mobility issues brought about by inefficient public transportation services. There is a lack of mobility infrastructure and public transportation services, and people are suffering. Are we just going to accept this when we can actually put in place safeguards and other measures?" Rep. Bem Noel (An Waray Party-list) said. 

As of this post, at least nine bills have been filed by House solons looking to promote the measure. These are: 

  1. House Bill No. 3125: An Act Creating a Magna Carta of Commuters filed by Rep. Allan Benedict Reyes (Quezon City, 3rd District) 
  2. House Bill No. 3613: An act providing for a bill of rights of commuters, promoting efficient, safe, convenient, accessible and inclusive public transportation filed by Rep. Alfred Vargas (5th District Quezon City) 
  3. House Bill No. 4025: An act providing for a Magna Carta for commuters filed by Rep. Ruffy Biazon (Muntinlupa City)
  4. House Bill No. 5202: An act providing for a bill of rights of commuters, promoting safe and accessible public transportation, appropriating funds therefore and other purposes filed by Rep. Florencio Noel (An Waray)
  5. House Bill No. 5621:  An act providing for a Magna Carta for commuters filed by Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez (Tindog Sirangan) and Rep. Martin Romualdez (1st District Leyte)
  6. House Bill No. 5653: An act providing for a Magna Carta for commuters filed by Rep. Juan Fidel Felipe Nograles (2nd District Rizal)
  7. House Bill No. 5992: An act defining and protecting the rights and duties of commuters using public utility vehicles filed by Rep. Claudine Diana Bautista (Dumber PTDA Party-List)
  8. House Bill No. 7417: An act providing for a Magna Carta for commuters filed by Reps. Eduardo Villanueva and Domingo Rivera (CIBAC Party-List)
  9. House Bill No. 7601: An act providing for a Magna Carta for commuters filed by Rep. Joy Myra Tambunting (2nd District Paranaque)

In the higher chamber, Sen. Francis Pangilinan has also filed Senate Bill No. 775 or An Act Providing for a Magna Carta for Dignified Commuting, Creating the National Office of Commuter Affairs at the Senate, also in collaboration with commuter advocacy group AltMobility PH.

Route rationalization 

At the hearing Wednesday, Mar Valbuena of Samahang Manibela Mananakay at Nagkaisang Terminal ng Transportasyon called attention to the transportation department's route rationalization scheme amid the coronavirus pandemic. The scheme was meant to ease the effects of limited public transportation in the metropolis, though transport and commuter groups say it has only made daily commutes much more taxing. 

"How can transportation be convenient when in our route rationalization we still trim direct routes into shorter ones? One trip for our commuters becomes two or three," he said. "The Magna Carta is a big help for our commuters to help keep their trips safe."

Transport coalition Move as One who was represented at the congressional hearing offered what it said was "basic causes of poor mobility":

  • No clear policy on availability and quality of services 
  • No targets with regards to commuter welfare 
  • No service standards for public service 
  • Poor data collection in absence of targets 
  • Reliance on the private sector for transport supply 
  • DOTr targets project delivery rather than improvements to commuter experience 

"Our road targets are vehicle-oriented, not people-oriented," transport economist Robert Siy said, citing survey results from the Social Weather Stations suggesting that around 85% of Filipinos want their localities "to become great places for walking and cycling." 

The same SWS survey also reported that 87% of Filipinos wanted a more pronounced priority on roads for public transportation, bicycles and pedestrians over private vehicles. For Move as One, securing a bill of rights would "clarify the obligations of government and service providers" and provide a "common vision and purpose to the efforts of different national and local agencies." 

Screengrab shows Move as One Coalition's proposed elements for the Magna Carta for Commuters.
Philstar.com Screengrab/House of Representatives of the Philippines on Facebook

The Department of Transportation, Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board, and Metro Manila Development Authority each expressed their "full support" for the proposed measure, though none of the three agencies opted to expound on their positions. 

The bill filed by CIBAC Party-list Reps. Domingo Rivera and Eddie Villanueva seeks to ban the boundary and commission-based payment system for PUV drivers, which they say push them to break traffic rules just to meet their quotas.

Why does this matter?

  • Pre-coronavirus, labor and transport unions in the Philippines were tagging the country's traffic situation as a mass transportation crisis, with long lines and technical malfunctions being commonplace in the daily lives of Filipino commuters.
  • Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chief Benhur Abalos says the solution to Metro Manila's longstanding traffic woes is simple: construct more roads
  • Urban planners and transport economists have long contested the idea that building or widening roads can lessen traffic, pointing to the concept of induced demand.
  • Data published by online database Numbeo found that the Philippines has among the worst traffic situations in the world with a total score of 198.33, good for the top spot among six of 11 Southeast Asian countries included in the index.

"Before COVID-19, a month would hardly go by without the mention of traffic problems. A sea of cars at standstill clogging our cities...the truth that an overwhelming majority of our population do not own cars, particularly in Metro Manila, where a staggering 88% of the population rely on other means of transport," Bautista said for her part. 

"It is clear that the overwhelming majority commuters continue to face a multitude of difficulties during their travels." 

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