The Office of the Vice President (OVP) on Wednesday launched its “Libreng Sakay” or free ride program for four key cities across the country, which will use five buses lent by the private sector to VP Sara Duterte-Carpio when she was still running for office in the May 9 elections.
The OVP’s Libreng Sakay Program intends to supplement the Department of Transportation’s similarly named program for the EDSA Busway Carousel, which offers free rides to commuters until the end of the year, on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s orders last month.
“These were buses that were lent to us during the campaign and after the campaign, after election day, these buses were on standby, not doing anything and were always parked,” Duterte-Carpio explained during the launching ceremony at the Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange (PITX).
She said two buses will be used in Metro Manila, one in Davao City, one in Cebu, and one in Bacolod, as the program aims to provide relief to Filipinos dependent on public transportation to go to work, school, and other places.
“It will support the national government’s program, and at the same time, it is hoped that this meager contribution would translate to daily savings for our public transport riding kababayans,” the VP said.
She added that after she assumed office, the buses were lent to the OVP but were mostly put on standby unless there were transportation requests made by different groups.
The Vice President’s free-ride program would also last for six years as the private sector has lent it to Duterte-Carpio’s office for that long, her spokesman Reynold Munsayac said.
The two buses that will be used in Metro Manila will ply Edsa from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. and then from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Munsayac added.
He said the OVP aims to accommodate more routes, including Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, should they get additional buses from the private sector.
The buses will likewise stay with the OVP for the next six years, thus the “Libreng Sakay” program is seen to last that long, with Munsayac saying their office will try to expand the offering to more commuters.
He said the OVP only pays for the cost of fuel and maintenance of the buses, while the private firms that lent the vehicles pay for the drivers’ salaries. The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board and DOTr are not shouldering any cost for the program.
“The LTFRB or DOTr has no obligation to pay because the OVP lent these buses to them, which were also lent to us, so the government will not pay anything for it,” Munsayac said.
Meanwhile, the DOTr is looking into possible partnerships with the private sector to fund three railway projects that were supposed to be backed by China but whose loan agreements are currently being “revisited.”
In a Laging Handa briefing on Wednesday, DOTr Undersecretary for Planning Timothy John Batan said President Marcos Jr. has asked to renegotiate with China and at the same time consider the possibility of partnering with the private sector for these projects.
These three railway projects are the Philippine National Railways (PNR) South Long Haul Project connecting Metro Manila, Batangas, Bicol, and Matnog in Sorsogon; the Subic-Clark Railway project; and the Mindanao Railway Project Phase 1 which will connect Tagum, Davao, and Digos through 100 kilometers of railways.
The Vice President also emphasized the collaboration of the government and the private sector, especially in a time of several crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the global economic crisis.
“We have proved again that no problem can’t be solved if we unite, and if we believe in the help of the government and our friends and supporters in the private sector, we will be able to overcome any challenge that we face in the future,” she said.
Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista thanked the OVP for the additional buses that will help commuters going to work and going to school, especially when in-person classes start this month.
“The DOTr is one with the Vice President in easing the burden of Filipinos, especially in a crucial time like this,” Bautista said during the launching ceremony.
“This is one of the crucial ways where we can attain our goal of providing accessible, affordable, comfortable, and safe transport service to all Filipinos,” Bautista added.
In June, the LTFRB announced the free bus rides on Edsa will end on July 31, saying that 80 percent of the P7-billion budget for the entire free ride program, including those for the service contracting program of public utility vehicles, had been used up.
Bautista earlier said an additional P1.4 billion is needed for extending the program.