TRANSPORTATION and Communication Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya snubbed a congressional hearing called for him to explain the fare increases at Metro Manila’s train lines, but his aides admitted the current increase would only be the first of many that could come every two years.
“There is treachery and deception on Malacanang’s part because they have not been forthright about these issues and are still doing all they can to justify the fare increase,” said Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares.
“It is also deplorable that DOTC Sec. Joseph Abaya did not even show up at the hearing but is all over media defending the fare hike,” Colmenares said during a hearing of the House’s committee on transportation, chaired by Abaya’s party-mate Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento.
Abaya instead sent DOTC Undersecretary Jose Perpetuo Lotilla who claimed Abaya was busy over preparations for the visit of Pope Francis next week.
It was the second time Abaya snubbed a congressional hearing on the train systems after he also begged off a Senate hearing in December purportedly because he was meeting with Korean investors.
“The person who will answer all the questions of the people is not here. He has all the time for the media, yet he could not attend this committee hearing. It seems he is avoiding this hearing,” Colmenares said.
During the hearing, Lotilla admitted that the fare hike the DOTC imposed last Jan. 4 was one of the “conditions” for the concession agreement that the government awarded to a consortium of the Ayala Corp. and Metro Pacific Investments Corporation.
Under that concession agreement, which took effect last October and will last for 32 years, the consortium may increase fares on the Light Rail Transit 1 by 10 percent every two years.
After the consortium takes operational control of the train line, which should already heave increased fares, it will then begin to build the 11.7-kilometer extension from the present endpoint in Baclaran to Bacoor, Cavite at a cost of P35 billion, Lotilla explained.
There will be eight new stations along the extended route, running through the cities of Parañaque and Las Piñas up to Bacoor, but revenues will first be used to meet the annual guaranteed return of P7 billion to the consortium, Lotilla added.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. said the DOTC should have asked the Department of Justice if it would be legal to impose a fare hike for the MRT if the LRT increase was based on a contractual agreement.
“Didn’t you ask the Department of Justice if your action for a fare hike would be legal since there is no law that provides for a regulatory body that will address such an issue?” Barzaga asked.
“No, your honor. We did not,” Lotilla answered, adding that the decision to raise the fare on the LRT was based on the decision of the LRT Board after two public consultations on February 4 and 5, 2011. The DOTC conducted a public hearing on the MRT fare hike in December 2013.
Barzaga also blasted Lotilla for claiming revenues from the train lines would go to the National Treasury when the government had already granted a P7-billion profit guarantee to the LRT consortium.
For one year, Lotilla said the DOTC has projected revenue of some P621 million in additional revenues for the LRT 1, P321 million for the LRT 2 and P1.122 billion for the MRT 3, or a total of P2.06 billion.
An irked Barzaga demanded that the MRT and the LRT management explain to public, in writing and in detail, how they will spend proceeds from the current fare hike since Congress has already allocated funds for its maintenance and rehabilitation.
Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza, for his part, asked committee chairman Sarmiento to subpoena Abaya so he could personally answer the congressmen’s questions.
“We ask Committee Chairman Cesar Sarmiento to compel Secretary Abaya to appear before the committee during the next hearing and personally explain the details of the concession agreement, which was signed by him, for the privatization of the LRT and MRT,” Atienza said.
“He is the only one who can shed light on this all important issue of the year,” Atienza added. “He should defend it in Congress the same way that he has been vigorously defending it all over the media. Privatization, in people’s minds translates to giving the private owners a big bulk of business.”
“He is not telling the truth when he claims that the fare increase is necessary to fund repairs and maintenance of the MRT and LRT to improve the service,” said the former Manila mayor.
“In this case, [the DOTC is claiming] if it is privatized, the income generated from the fare increase will go to the new private owners. If it is not privatized, the income will go to the General Fund and cannot be used for repairs and improvements. So what is he talking about?” Atienza asked.
“Railways should always be subsidized by government and in fact this is already included in the 2015 budget,” Atienza added.
“I pity the hundreds of thousands of commuters who bear long queues under the sun and crowded coaches and who will be punished with higher fares. We’re being stewed in our own juice.” Atienza said.
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