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Less than half of service contracting program funds disbursed by DOTr so far

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Less than half of service contracting program funds disbursed by DOTr so far
Passengers pictured at Tandang Sora Jeep Terminal in Visayas Avenue, Quezon City on Oct. 19, 2021. The Department of Transportation is pushing for an increase in passenger capacity of public utility vehicles following the downgrading of Metro Manila's COVID-19 alert level from 4 to 3.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Months after being flagged by the Commission on Audit for spending just 1.07% of the funds allocated to its service contracting program, the Department of Transportation has still utilized less than half of its budget for service contracting, leading to delayed benefits for drivers and operators of public utility vehicles.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board in a statement issued Tuesday said it tallied a collective P4.7 billion of payouts and incentives to PUV drivers and operators who signed up for service contracting under both the Bayanihan law and the national budget.

It only provided a total aggregate sum in its statement and not a benchmark. 

"We distributed P2,289,506,007 from September 13 to October 23 from Bayanihan 2, while P539,672,859 [was distributed] from September 13 to October 23 under the [General Appropriations Act]," LTFRB Chairman Martin Delgra was quoted as saying in Filipino in a statement issued Tuesday.

Given the total budgets — P5.58-billion allocated under Bayanihan and P3 billion earmarked under the General Appropriations Act — the department's current figures translate to just 41% distributed from Bayanihan and 17.9% from the budget bill. 

This comes after the COA, in its 2020 report in August, found the LTFRB only used around P59 million of the P5.58 billion funds for the Service Contracting Program, where public transport operators would be paid for plying a route despite lower passenger capacities.

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

Why does this matter?

Under service contracting, drivers and operators of public utility vehicles are paid by the government to ply their routes on a per kilometer basis. The program was meant to offset the effects of the capacity restrictions caused by the pandemic. 

“As of June 30, 2021, we distributed up to P1,907,192,708 to drivers and operators under Service Contracting," Delgra said in mixed Filipino and English.

Drivers have said they do not feel the effects of the program, with many who signed up claiming they never received their money.

Just 26% of the total Bayanihan budget meant to assist transport workers was used before the funds expired in June. The unused 73%, which totaled around P4.1 billion, was returned to the Department of Budget and Management.

With no budget and the DBM still processing the DOTr's request for money under the GAA, service contracting was halted and remained suspended in limbo for a time. 

Transport workers in May of this year criticized 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 had been spent at the time.

READ: LTFRB aid and subsidies not reaching transport workers, jeepney drivers say

Free rides service millions

The DOTr in its statement also heralded its total ridership of 53,226,651 for the “Libreng Sakay” program for medical frontliners, Authorized Persons Outside Residence, and essential workers.

But transport workers earlier this year warned against giving out free rides, pointing to the many drivers who were still not part of the government's service contracting program. 

"There may be routes where operators agree to offer free rides on the promise of a service contract from DOTr. However, they may decide to reduce the number of units in operation because they are unable to cover the operational costs of free rides if DOTr’s payments for the service contracts are delayed by several weeks," the Move as One transport coalition said in an open letter in June of last year. 

"Many more operators will gain confidence in service contracting if they have the assurance of being paid promptly, say, within one week."

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

"If you give out free rides, what passengers will be left for the jeepneys not in the service contracting?" the National Confederation of Transport Workers Union also said in May. 

DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION LAND TRANSPORTATION FRANCHISING AND REGULATORY BOARD
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