'Bad for commuters': Group raises concerns over SC ruling junking petition vs MRT-LRT fare hike

James Relativo - Philstar.com
'Bad for commuters': Group raises concerns over SC ruling junking petition vs MRT-LRT fare hike
File photo of the MRT-3 along EDSA
The STAR / Michael Varcas, File

MANILA, Philippines — A progressive group condemned a recent decision by the Supreme Court to dismiss its petition against the implementation of fare hikes within the MRT and LRT systems that have been stalled eight years ago — stating that this would lead to more rounds of increases in the long run.

In a statement released last Friday, the SC En Banc stated they are dismissing various petitions from 2015, challenging the former Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC)'s department order which mandates the application of “user-pays” principle and adopts a uniform base fare of P11.00, plus P1.00 per kilometer of distance travelled.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) last January urged the SC to expedite the ruling on the petition, stating that no public consultation was held prior to the implementation of the fare adjustment. The group earlier suggested that refunds in form of discounts should be given after years of collecting increased fares.

"The SC dismissal of our petitions legitimizes the 2015 fare hikes and paves the way for a new round of fare increases for the MRT and LRT. This is bad for commuters," said Renato Reyes, secretary general of BAYAN, this Saturday.

"An initial reading of the SC press release shows that our petitions were dismissed because the then DoTC substantially complied with the required notice and hearing for the fare hike. At the time, such notice and hearing consisted of mere announcements and a forum where the DoTC gave power point presentations. Is this the barest minimum now for notice and hearings for fare hikes that affect hundreds of thousands of commuters?" he added.

Reyes said the High Court affirmed the authority of the DOTC and Light Rail Transit Authority to raise fares even if there is a situation where "it is the applicant and approving authority at the same time." 

The progressive group leader questioned the ruling as there is no independent regulatory body that exists to regulate the fares as a check and balance.

"This bodes ill for commuters now because the same ruling will be used in justifying the validity of the proposed LRT and MRT fare hike. In the next wave of train fare hikes, the DoTr is both involved in the petitions and is at the same time the approving authority," Reyes said.

"The fare hikes this time around will be bigger than those in 2015 and will be a huge burden to commuters," he added.

It could be remembered that officials of the LRTA, the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 and the Light Rail Manila Corp. were quizzed by Reyes, commuter groups and other stakeholders in the former's push to again increase the fares for LRT-1, LRT-3 and MRT-3 while decreasing government subsidy even if Congress already approved the budget for 2023.

'Prior notice and hearing are valid'

In the dismissed petitions for certioari and/or prohibition before the SC, petitioners argued that the DOTC lacks the power to implement fare increases as the power has been transferred to the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board.

They also alleged that DOTC's department order (DO) 2014-014 was violative of due process for being issued without due notice and hearing.

"In dismissing the petitions, the Supreme Court ruled that prior notice and hearing are required in the fixing of rates by administrative agencies," said the SC in a statement released Friday.

"The Court clarified that while under the 1964 case of Vigan Electric Light Company v. Public Service Commission, no notice and hearing are required in the administrative agencies’ exercise of quasi-legislative functions, this rule does not apply when there is a law that expressly requires notice and hearing. In the case of fixing rates, while this is considered a quasi-legislative function, the Administrative Code of 1987 expressly requires that there be prior notice and hearing in rate-fixing, with the notice to be published at least two weeks before the hearing. Hence, such requirements must be complied with for any increase in LRT and MRT fares to be valid," it added.

The Court found that the DOTC "substantially complied" with the notice and hearing requirements for DO 2014-014 after the agency published a notice of public  consultation on January 20 and 27, 2011 in two news papers. 

Public consultations were reported to have been held last February 4 and 5 of the said year. In 2013, the DOTC was reported to have published anew a notice for consultation scheduled in December of that year.

The Court also said that it is "well-established" in jurisprudence that rate-fixing power of administrative agencies is a valid delegation of legislative power in response to the "growing complexity of society." That said, the SC found that the agency's power to fix rates has been delegated by Congress in Administrative Code of 1987.

Reyes, for their part, said that they will continue to study the SC decision and discuss their options with lawyers.

"More importantly, we call on commuters and taxpayers to fight the new round of train fare hikes as being anti-people," he said.

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