Robredo laments low use of funds meant to subsidize public transportation

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Robredo laments low use of funds meant to subsidize public transportation
Members of the Quezon City Police District continue to conduct checkpoint along the boundary of San Mateo, Rizal and Quezon City on Aug. 5, 2021.
The STAR / Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 4:03 p.m.) — Vice President Leni Robredo urged the Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board to act on the Commission on Audit's flagging of its Service Contracting Program with urgency on Sunday. 

This comes after the Commission on Audit, in its 2020 report published over the weekend, said the LTFRB only used around P59 million of the P5.58 billion funds for the Service Contracting Program, where public transportation operators would be paid for plying a route despite lower passenger capacities.

“Delays in the implementation of the Service Contracting Program ranging from two to 10 weeks as at December 31, 2020 resulted in the minimal fund utilization of only P59,720, 089 or 1.07%  of the total project fund,” the COA said.

LTFRB: 26% of funds used, rest returned

In response, LTFRB chair Martin Delgra said at last week's Laging Handa briefing that the used funds actually amounted to some 26% of the total budget. The remaining funds were returned to the Department of Budget and Management. 

Speaking on her weekly radio show aired over radio dzXL, the vice president lamented the unused 73%, which totaled around P4.1 billion, which could have been used to assist transport workers sidelined by the coronavirus-induced pandemic. 

"How many drivers could have been helped with that money?" she said in Filipino. 

READ: In ECQ 'bubble', checkpoints for commuter safety harm hard-up drivers

"It's sad that there's still money that's not being used...our drivers are going through extreme suffering after their livelihoods were stopped and they still have to go through the modernization program. And now that they're allowed on the road again, physical distancing is still being imposed in public transport." 

Under service contracting, drivers and operators of public utility vehicles are subsidized by the national government according to how many kilometers they drive on their routes instead of the boundary system where they're paid off how many passengers they serve. 

Robredo also called on government agencies to "multiply by a thousand times" their urgency in addressing the needs of the people amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

"It doesn't make sense that in a crisis situation, there are a lot of funds being allocated but are going unused," Robredo said. 

"This goes back to governance, because it's a matter of life and death in this crisis situation, especially for our drivers...I don't know what the reason is, but this should have been assessed."

With the expiration of the 'Bayanihan 2' law—which allocated a P5.58-billion budget to the service contracting program—in June, the LTFRB expressed its intent to get funds from the 2021 national budget instead to keep the program going. 

The LTFRB is still waiting for the P3-billion fund from the 2021 national budget to allow them to resume the Service Contracting Program.

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

The DBM may still reject the request, however. The department confirmed at an earlier House hearing that it had already received the request on June 17.  

Without service contracting subsidies, drivers have been forced to stay at home in the Enhanced Community Quarantine rather than operate at a loss. 

Lawmaker hits 'harassment and neglect' from DOTr

In a separate statement Sunday, Sen. Nancy Binay also hit what she said was "the lack of government effort" to seriously fasttrack the implementation of the Service Contracting Program for public utility drivers.

The LTFRB also admitted earlier that only 42,571 drivers had executed complete contracts before June 30 when the Bayanihan 2 funds expired. This ultimately fell short of the board's target of 60,000 drivers served. 

"They already had their driving taken away, and now they were even denied aid," she said in Filipino. 

"Our brothers and sisters in the masses have been deprived of assistance for more than a year. The DOTr and the LTFRB are invisible, and have become the single-biggest job stranglers since the start of the pandemic. Give them at least a little dignity."

Binay in her statement urged the national government to make the claims process easier for everyone in the transportation sector.

Beneficiaries of the program include families of drivers of public utility jeepneys, UV Express vehicles, public utility and point-to-point buses, and taxis.

"It's been more than a year but the distribution of much-needed cash assistance has hardly improved. It's disappointing at both the national and department levels that until now our jeepney and bus drivers are still not a priority. They don't have a job on the road as it is, but they will have a harder time in the process of getting aid," she said. 

"The LTFRB's harassment and neglect is unacceptable...If the DOTr and LTFRB have their hearts in the right place, they should not be able to bear to see jeepney drivers begging on the road." — with a report from Bella Perez-Rubio

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