By Alexandria San Juan
Fare increases of public utility jeepneys and buses will push through in November as the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) junked the petition of a commuters group to stop its implementation.
In its Order dated October 30, the LTFRB has denied the motion for reconsideration filed by Arlis Acao, and Rodolfo Javellana, Jr. of the United Filipino Consumers and Commuters as it “failed to present new issues for the board to reconsider its earlier findings.”
The LTFRB noted that the issues raised by the oppositors “had already been passed upon by the board in resolving the instant petition for fare increase as the same issues raised by Opposition Acao filed on June 13, 2018.”
Based on the order, the board added that it considered Javellana as “having no personality to oppose in the instant case” for appearing only after the LTFRB released its decision on fare increase despite several hearings it conducted.
The decision also cancelled the supposed hearing on the issue on Tuesday following the release of the order.
Acao and Javellana stated in their appeal that the fare hike will burden more the commuters on top of rising prices of commodities, and that the operators and drivers are already earning “good income.”
The oppositors’ appeal was filed at the LTFRB on October 23, five days after the board released its decision approving a P10 minimum fare for PUJs in Metro Manila and Regions 3 and 4, in relation to the petition filed by transport groups in September 2017.
Transport regulators have also granted a provisional fare hike of P1 to commuter buses in Metro Manila, and an additional P0.15 per kilometer charge for provincial buses.
The fare increase on PUJs and PUBs come at the heels of rising pump prices and runaway inflation which petitioners said are heavy burden to them.
With the LTFRB’s order to deny the motion, the fare hikes will take effect on the first week of November.
The order released to reporters on Tuesday was penned by all the members of the board with a supplemental concurring opinion by LTFRB Chairman Atty. Martin Delgra III, and a dissenting opinion by board member Atty. Aileen Lizada.
In a copy of Lizada’s dissenting opinion, she said the oppositors, especially Javellana, should be given ample time to be heard in court.
“Why the haste? Why deny the stakeholders opportunity to be heard,” Lizada stated.
The board member also maintained that the board should consider the recommendations of the National Economic and Development Authority when deciding on fare hike petitions.
In a letter from NEDA addressed to Chairman Delgra dated October 2, it has recommended to the board to enact a fare hike once the government’s fuel subsidy program has been fully implemented, and to partner up with oil companies in providing fuel discounts for jeepney drivers.
The agency stated that based on their estimates, LTFRB’s proposed provisionary increase will “slightly push the country’s annual inflation up by 0.076 percentage points in 2018, if implemented starting October.”
NEDA also told the board to be “wary of fueling further inflationary expectations” and push for alternative measures to counter the effect of higher crude prices this year.
The country’s independent economic and development planning agency also cautioned the LTFRB that fare hikes would reduce the purchasing power of workers who rely on public transportation which will result in stronger calls for wage hike for the government.
“This office should be the refuge of those who have less in life. This board owes them a judicious and thorough procedure where everyone is given an opportunity to be heard and not bar them by mere technicalities,” Lizada added.
The LTFRB chairman, meanwhile, has answered Lizada’s dissenting opinion through his supplemental concurring opinion and said he “respectfully affirm his original vote and deny the motion for reconsideration of the oppositor.”
According to Delgra, the board has given “more enough” opportunity for the commuters to discuss the fare hike petition in court.
He explained that at least eight hearings were held after the petition for fare increase was filed in September 2017 wherein only two from the commuters group participated including Acao, and the National Council for Commuters Safety and Protection.
Delgra also added that the findings of NEDA are “by no means conclusive or binding upon the board, but rather, merely opinion for which the latter has seriously considered.”
But Delgra reiterated that interests of the riding public and the transport groups have been carefully considered before coming up with the decision.
“The Board must always strike a delicate balance in issuing decisions for fare adjustment. Both interests of the riding public and the transport operators are cautiously and judiciously weighed before arriving at a reasonable and just decision. However, at some point the Board must make a decision no matter how difficult it may be,” he concluded.