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Former EDSA bus carousel drivers hit slow payout for service contracting

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Former EDSA bus carousel drivers hit slow payout for service contracting
Commuters line up for free rides along the EDSA bus carousel station in Ortigas yesterday. Passengers opted for bus rides as the operations of the MRT-3 remain suspended until Easter Sunday.
Walter Bollozos

MANILA, Philippines — Transport workers with the ES Consortium and the Mega Manila Consortium, which operate the buses that ply the EDSA bus carousel, hit the company and the national government for what they said was the abuse they faced at the hands of their former employers and the lack of reprieve from the government. 

In a press conference organized by the Alternatiba Party-list, former drivers along the carousel told of harsh restrictions on riders who were growing increasingly dissatisfied with what they said was their delayed pay. Since May 2021, they said, they have not been paid. 

The buses along the EDSA Bus Carousel are part of the Transportation Department's service contracting program, which includes free rides to passengers along the EDSA thoroughfare. 

"Most of us have been in debt for a long time. We were only listened to after our protest, but until now the process is still very slow and many of us still do not given our hard-earned wages," they said in a statement. 

Payout under service contracting has been historically sluggish since the program left the terminal in 2020. In September of that year, senators filed a resolution calling for a probe after a report by the Commission on Audit found that the LTFRB utilized just P59.7 million of its P5.58 billion budget for the program in 2020, less than 2% of the allocated funds. 

Under LTFRB Memorandum Circular 2021-029, 30% of the funding for the service contracting program is for drivers and conductors while the remaining 70% is for the operator and daily fuel and maintenance of vehicles.

Jun Apolinar, a bus driver of EDSA Carousel, added that apart from payment fraud, he was also forced to travel from 2 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day just to complete the required cycle. He said he had not been paid in weeks due to the Libreng Sakay program. 

"What they did to us was pure pressure. In fact, we travel about 18-21 hours in a day on the EDSA Carousel. The worst part is that sometimes are bodies give out but we are still being forced to ride," he said in Filipino, adding that he suffers from high blood so he often feels dizzy.

Jojie Vizconde, union president, said that the group approached the transportation and labor departments but never received any assistance. 

RELATED: Phase 3 of service contracting program now underway, DOTr says

The drivers and conductors said that after they staged a protest last February 2022, they were eventually laid off. The retrenchment letter sent by the ES Consortium in March claimed that the losses were the reason behind this despite the P7 billion in funds set aside for the service contracting program.

The Move as One transport coalition pointed out as early as March that Libreng Sakay is only "viable to transport cooperatives and corporations that have the financial capacity to advance transport service operations for a period."

"We believe that Service Contracting is best implemented to partially subsidize public transportation and still allow transport cooperatives and corporations to collect fares," it said in a statement sent to reporters then. 

The coalition also predicted then that Libreng Sakay would only result in a reduction, not an addition of public transport supply because of the "social tension among transport groups and workers plying on the same route."

"Commuters will obviously choose to ride Libreng Sakay PUVs, making fare-based PUV operations less viable amidst rising fuel prices, the net effect of which will be a reduction of public transport supply. Commuters will ultimately suffer the consequences of the more lasting effect of a reduction in public transport supply."

LAND TRANSPORTATION FRANCHISING AND REGULATORY BOARD

LTFRB

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