FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

The market always finds a way – much more reliably the more government steps aside to let it work.

When our bus routing system left large swathes of the metropolis underserved, commuter vans appeared to meet the demand for transport. Regulators tried to suppress the “colorum” van services, but commuters raised a howl. Without them, there would be no available transport.

Our mass transit system is a failure.

There are not enough buses serving the so-called EDSA Carousel route. The reason is simple. Government decided to subsidize the service and fielded buses according to how much the budget allocation allows, not according to how many buses our commuters actually need. Bureaucracy stands in the way of business meeting market demand.

Government once decided to meet the need for urban mass transport by running commuter trains. It took generations for the rail lines to be built, constrained principally by what funds were available to build them. It took over a decade to build the short LRT-2 extension to Antipolo. There are not enough trains for the busy MRT-3 line because government cannot procure enough. LRT-1 now runs better because it was transferred to the private sector. San Miguel, after much regulatory delay, is now on its way to completing Line 7.

There is obviously a large market demand for motorcycle taxis. Commuters need them. Operators note that the service caters mainly to fill “first mile” (going from home to the train stops) and “last mile” (going from the train stops to the office) gaps facing commuters.

In the Metro Manila area, operators of this service estimate market demand to be at least one million rides a day. There are not enough motorcycles serving this demand — to the consternation of commuters waiting hours to book a ride.

The reason there are not enough rides available is entirely bureaucratic. Some wise guys in some “technical working group” formed by the DOTr decided there should not be more than three players providing motorcycle taxi services. Each player cannot have more than 15,000 riders deployed.

Those numbers were not determined by existing market conditions. They were determined by some estimate of the bureaucracy’s ability to regulate the service. This has to be called impunity.

Recently, Grab PH bought out Move It, the smallest of the three players in the motorcycle taxi business. The business is obviously profitable. The competition will definitely be more intense.

Angkas was able to attract foreign investment through Creador. With better investments, the competing motorcycle taxi services are able to improve their network efficiency and bring down fares.

Service improvement is palpable in the upgraded apps now available for use by commuters booking ride services. As the technology is improved, the motorcycle taxi services are better able to make their networks more efficient. This benefits the ordinary commuter.

Remember when we had only one telephone provider? Lee Kuan Yew, visiting Manila, quipped that 98 percent of Filipinos were waiting for a phone connection while the 2 percent were waiting for a dial tone. President Ramos broke the monopoly and opened the door to the lively competition we now see among the telecoms providers.

We could see the same lively competition if we liberalize the sector of transport providers. In a free market environment, every need converts into a business opportunity. Let a thousand service providers bloom.

Surely, Transport Secretary Jimmy Bautista, coming from the private sector, understands how unnecessary bureaucratic intervention chokes business initiatives to meet our people’s needs. He must review existing regulations that prevent both government and business from meeting the needs of our commuters.

The pain endured by our commuters today is totally unwarranted. The inefficiencies brought about by a decrepit public transport system cripple our economy’s ability to recover.


In the wake of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei, China decided it would throw a tantrum.

The largest military drills ever conducted by China’s armed forces were held around the island of Taiwan. These drills included live-fire exercises. Japan has complained that Chinese missiles landed in its Exclusive Economic Zone. The ASEAN foreign ministers warned China about the risks of escalation. Strategists around the world fret over the possibility of accidents sparking a shooting war.

There is no need for this show of force. Everybody acknowledges the strength of China’s armed forces.

The main purpose of the large-scale military maneuvers is to terrorize Taiwan — and, by extension, the rest of East Asia. The fear Beijing inflicts, however, will not diminish Taiwan’s reluctance to be part of a revived Chinese empire. On the contrary, it only fuels suspicion about China’s strategic goals.

The whole region distrusts China. Beijing cannot cure that by mounting exercises meant to intimidate her neighbors.

China’s military maneuvers in the waters all around Taiwan is akin to North Korea whimsically firing long-range missiles into the sea. These maneuvers are pointless. It only deepens perception that China, like North Korea, is unwholesome to the peace and progress of the whole region.

There is another reason the Xi Jinping government is doing this. The sitting president faces party elections in a few months, expected to retain him in power for an unprecedented third term, possibly for life. He altered the country’s constitution to make his rule permanent.

Now he needs to create an atmosphere to make his rule appear indispensable. The main ingredient to such an atmosphere is some form of nationalist hysteria.

For that, he brings distress to everyone else. He is like Putin in this sense.


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