Less than 15% of service contracting funds used by gov't

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Less than 15% of service contracting funds used by gov't
Jeepney drivers on June 25, 2020 check their engine at Tandang Sora Jeepney Terminal in Quezon City.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Months after the program formally began, less than 12% of the funds allocated for the service contracts of public utility vehicles have been used by the Duterte administration. 

This was confirmed by lawmakers and budget officials at Monday morning's hearing of the House committee on transportation.

Rep. Edgar Sarmiento (Samar 1st District), who chairs the House panel, said that the utilization rate of the Bayanihan funds stood at 12.26%. 

"Can we give priority to increasing manpower for a more efficient public transportation?" he asked transportation officials. 

Under the Department of Transportation's budget in the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, P5.58 billion is allocated for public utility vehicle service contracting, while P3 billion from the country's 2021 budget was also set aside for the program.

However, the budget in the stimulus fund is set to expire by end-June. Calls across multiple sectors and government officials continue to resound for the extension of the bill. 

"The funds were released last year, October 28, 2020, with the cash allocation released to DOTr," analyst Loremee Perada of the Department of Budget and Management said when asked about the Bayanihan funds.

Asked about the P3 billion from the General Appropriations Act, Perada said that the request for funds from the spending bill "was just recently received by the DBM last June 17."

"[The request] is now being evaluated by the analyst concerned," she said. 

READ: Jeepney drivers have not received aid months into quarantine — Piston

Deployment still lagging, too

LTFRB chairman Martin Delgra bared that as of Sunday, across traditional and modernized jeepneys, along with buses and free rides, only 12,282 drivers have been "activated" around the country.

As of June, only 56,482 out of the targeted 60,000 drivers have been oriented on the program, 37,103 have submitted contracts. 

31,708 drivers already had "executed" contracts, 26,000 of whom were operators of traditional jeepneys. 

Over 37,000 drivers have already been uploaded, he said, while 68,000 were registered around the Philippines. 

This still, however, falls short of estimates that in Metro Manila alone, 74,000 traditional jeepneys were rendered jobless by the suspension of public transportation at the onset of the community quarantine. Transport group Piston estimates around 150,000 jeepney drivers in the capital region. 

As far back as early May, transport collectives and advocates have been calling on the LTFRB to improve its payout systems for participants of the service contracting program, saying "not even one percent" of the budget set aside for it had been spent at the time.

"From registration to activation, if all the documents are there, it can happen in one day. The usual complaint we get is that during the orientation, they still have to get documentation for submitting, and sometimes they submit contracts that are unsigned," Delgra said. 

"Once the contract is executed, there is no basis for payment, and the first payment that the program would give is P4,000 for the purchase of a cellphone."

READ: Delayed service contracting program leaves many transport workers on sidelines

Screengrab shows the LTFRB's latest data on the utilization rate of funds allocated for its service contracting program by the Bayanihan bill.
Screengrab/House of Representatives on Facebook

Traffic situation

Transport subsidies were also expected to boost the transport capacity along the capital region's busy thoroughfares. 

But drivers and operators said that the delayed funds, coupled with the strict enforcement of quarantine rules, have discouraged many from plying their routes. As it currently stands, only 11,346 jeepney drivers have been activated under the program. 

Much like the transport crisis of pre-pandemic times, photos and videos of commuters lined up at stalled transport hubs continue to inundate social media. 

Asked about the traffic situation, Delgra hinted at once again augmenting transport supply with more units, particularly along EDSA.

"One of the remedies is to increase the units in the route, hopefully, 20 more units will be deployed this week. We’re also pushing to increase the units, increase the efficiency on the use of these units, avoid the cueing of buses in stations," Delgra said. 

“We were told that there was an increase [in ridership] of something like 30,000 in the trains,” he also said, though no officials from the department's three rail lines were not present at the hearing to confirm this. 

Rep. Stella Quimbo (Marikina 2nd District) also bared her observation that few free rides were being given in her locality as she questioned what she said was the sizable "variability" of free PUV rides across Metro Manila cities. 

Why does this matter?

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. 

The subsidized program, according to the LTFRB's implementing guidelines, was meant to be a "form of temporary relief to critically impacted workers in [the] adversely affected transport sector." 

However, transport workers on the ground have said that they do not feel the effects of the program.

READ: MMDA expects the worst in EDSA traffic

with a report from News5 

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