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Train fare increases stay

Supreme Court also junks challenge to 2015 budget

THE Palace scored two legal victories Tuesday, as the Supreme Court chose not to immediately issue a temporary restraining order on fare increases on the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) lines, and threw out a challenge to the constitutionality of the 2015 national budget.

In a press conference, Court spokesman Theodore Te announced both decisions, and added that the justices gave the Department of Transportation and Communications 10 days to comment on several petitions seeking to stop the fare increases for the LRT and MRT.

Te said the order was addressed to Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, LRTA Administrator Honorito Chaneco, MRT 3 officer-in-charge Renato San Jose, the MRT Corporation and the Light Rail Manila Consortium, who were named respondents.

The petitioners -- Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, former Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco, Bayan Muna and the United Filipino Consumers and Commuters Incorporated – asked the Court to issue a temporary restraining order or a status quo ante order to stop the imposition of the increases.

Malacañang welcomed the decision of the Court not to issue a TRO, saying this would give the public a chance to understand the issues better.

“We respect the decision of the Supreme Court. This is a good opportunity for the public to be enlightened on the reasons for the fare adjustment as well as the arguments of those who are opposed to this,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma.

But one of the petitioners, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, said the fight against the fare increases will continue despite the legal setback.

“We are saddened over the failure of the SC to issue a TRO against the MRT [and] LRT fare hike. Commuters’ woes will thus continue. The illegal increase remains in effect. How disappointing indeed that the interests of the poor were not upheld,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said.

Earlier, President Benigno Aquino III said the fare increase was the right thing to do even if it is not a popular choice, adding that those opposing the hike “just want to look cute.”

“Those who are noisiest in opposing this decision, if they have a solution to offer, I am all ears. If they can solve the problem, I am willing to listen. But if they just keep on complaining without offering a solution, then they really just want to look cute and have no intention of finding solutions to the problem,” Aquino said in an interview.

Aquino said delaying further the fare adjustment would only worsen the problem.

He said it was only fair that commuters who take the mass transit systems pay for the service.

“Somebody has to pay. And it is only reasonable that if you are the one who benefited from the service, then you pay a little more. Even with the increase, the full payment of P60 for MRT, for example, will still be subsidized,” he said.

The President said he understands the concern of 14 million Metro Manila-based commuters but the welfare of 86 million Filipinos outside the capital should also be addressed.

“I’m sure the questions of the 86 million Filipinos are legitimate: why should we subsidize... a service that we did not benefit from? And when shall we have our own public transport? When shall we enjoy improvements in our airports and seaports?”

The President assured the public that improvements to the train service are forthcoming, including repairs of escalators, elevators, and toilets.

In their arguments, the petitioners said the respondents committed grave abuse of discretion when they implemented the fare increases on Jan. 4 since it was done without the benefit of a public hearing of consultation.

The petitioners also questioned the “devious timing” of the publication of the fare increases last Dec. 20 during the Christmas season, and its implementation on the first Sunday of 2015, which deprived the public an effective remedy against the fare hikes.

The petitioners also questioned Abaya’s justification for the increases, noting that he changed the rationale, from reducing the government subsidy to Metro Manila riders, to improving LRT and MRT services.

Contrary to the government’s repeated assertion, the petitioners said the mass transit system is not losing money and is actually earning revenue aside from the funding allocated to them by the national government for subsidy, maintenance and upgrading, and rehabilitation work.

The petitioners also noted that the 2015 national budget provided at least P16 billion to improving and expanding train services.

Under the new rates, passengers of LRT Line 1 from Baclaran in Pasay to Monumento in Caloocan City and vice versa must pay P30 for single journey tickets and P29 for stored value tickets, from the previous maximum of P20.

Passengers of the LRT Line 2 from Recto in Manila to Santolan and vice versa must pay P25 for single journey tickets and P24 for stored value tickets,up from P15, while those taking the MRT 3 from North Avenue in Quezon City to Taft Avenue in Pasay City and vice versa must pay P28 up from P15 for stored value and single journey tickets.

Also on Tuesday, the Supreme Court dismissed for lack of merit two petitions filed by Syjuco seeking to nullfy the General Appropriations Act for 2015 as well a the supplemental budget passed for 2014.

“Petitioner, suing as a taxpayer, has not claimed any injury to him or to taxpayers in general but has only posed hypothetical or feigned problems or mere academic questions,” Te said.

In his first petition, Syjuco said the 2015 national budget contained pork barrel in contravention of the Court’s decision that declared the Priority Development Assistance Fund unconstitutional.

He also questioned the definition of “savings” contained in the budget.

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