Delayed service contracting program leaves many transport workers on sidelines

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Delayed service contracting program leaves many transport workers on sidelines
Jeepney drivers in Caloocan City who are not yet allowed to operate ask for alms amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left millions of Filipinos jobless due to to the government's measures against the virus.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Transport workers on Thursday slammed the delay in the release of funds under the transportation department's service contracting program, saying "not even one percent" of the budget set aside for it has been spent.

At a press briefing organized by the Move as One transport coalition Thursday, groups said that a backlog at the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board's has affected not only its service contracting payouts but also the processing of documents required to sign up for the program and apply for franchises.  

Per the Department of Transportation's own figures sent to Philstar.com, only 11,543 driver  recipients—out of some 36,000—have received their "initial payout." In total, only P46.1 million has been paid out.   

      "The LTFRB added to their requirements, they said that [cooperatives] now have to be consolidated...That's where we're being delayed," Ernie Cruz, chair of the National Confederation of Transportworkers' Unions, said in Filipino. 

"It's been 'assessment' after 'assessment' since we applied for consolidation 2019, and it's 2021 already. How are we going to participate in this program?" 

Asked for a possible reason for the delay, he said that transportation officials may have been overwhelmed by the number of transport cooperatives in Metro Manila, saying they might not have had the personnel to accommodate the requests. 

"In the end, it's their shortcoming if they can't check the co-ops applying properly," he said. 

Weekly payouts promised

Monica Acha of the Province of Iloilo Transport Service Cooperative said that the weekly payouts promised in the LTFRB's contracts are precisely what attracted jeepney drivers, many of whom are daily wage earners, to sign on for the program. Others have since been forced to take loans to sustain their families, she said. 

"It took almost four months since December, we received our payout in April," she said. "Until now many haven't received the initial P4,000, and the kilometers [counted] are not accurate."

Philstar.com has sought LTFRB chairman Martin Delgra for comment, though he has not responded as of this post.  

'Low confidence in service contracting'

Under service contracts, public utility jeepneys and buses will be paid a subsidy for every kilometer they run on required 18-hour operations daily, among other performance standards specified under these contracts.

Drivers joining the program for the first time are also supposed to receive one-time incentives ranging from P20,000 to P25,000. 

However, drivers on the ground say they do not feel the effects of the program—which has an allocated budget of P5.58-billion under the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act expiring by end-June.

To make matters worse, more money seems to be going to the free rides that the department is giving out amid the community quarantine.  

DOTr data says that the department is disbursing a P18.03 million payout weekly for regular rides.  But the same figures show that the Libreng Sakay program has a total ridership of over 4 million as of this post, while P80.3 million has already been disbursed to free rides under the department. 

The coalition earlier cautioned against free rides "if doing so will result in lower public transport supply due to budget constraints," saying: "Instead, we should monitor the effectiveness of and increase confidence in the service contracting system by publishing actual daily performance metrics."

"If you give out free rides, what passengers will be left for the jeepneys not in the service contracting?" NCTU secretary-general Jaime Aguilar added at the press conference. 

READ: LTFRB chairman Delgra urged: Act now on transport situation

'Everybody is happy'

All the while, commuters are still left without many options to get to work in a pandemic. As of mid-April, 37,246 traditional public utility jeepneys have been authorized to ply their routes once more. 

However, the number is still just a fraction of the LTFRB's own figure of 74,000 traditional PUJs left idled in Metro Manila—leaving a bit over half of drivers and operators still without a livelihood over the pandemic.

Transport group Piston estimates around 200,000 traditional jeepney units and 150,000 drivers in the National Capital Region alone. 

In its latest update in early April, the LTFRB in a disclosure said that 36,535 drivers out of the targeted 60,000 were officially registered for the program, 25,148 of whom have already "undergone the orientation process."  

Later that month, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said at a Palace press briefing that around P40 million was given as initial payout for 9,248 drivers of the program. “Everybody is happy in service contracting,” he said then. 

"The Move As One Coalition finds this situation unacceptable. It is unjust that the bulk of this billion-peso budget remains unspent while countless transport workers are reduced to begging in the streets as their families go hungry," the coalition said in a statement.

No update on the figures has been given since then, as the groups themselves said that data transparency was among the principal issues hounding cooperation with the national government. 

"If I were in LTFRB, it would be so easy to fix this situation if they listened and were open-minded," Aguilar said.

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