Aquino defends train fare spikes

Critics should offer solutions, not try to look ‘cute’

RESPONDING to criticism that the imposition of train fare hikes was “treacherous and deceitful,” President Benigno Aquino III insisted that it was still the right thing to do even if it is unpopular, adding that those opposing the hike just want to look “cute” to the public.

“The decision is not popular, but I do not want to be part of the problem where we do not increase the rates and leave it up to St. Jude,” Aquino told reporters after inaugurating government projects in Romblon, Romblon.

Aquino maintained that the fare hikes were reasonable and just, especially since the Metro Manila train system – the two-line Light Rail Transit and the Metro Rail Transit – is being subsidized by the entire nation.

“Let’s assume that all the 14 million daytime residents of Manila, the (National Capital Region), use the MRT and LRT and that’s a very big assumption already. So, there are 14 million people being benefited and 86 million helping pay the bill,” he said.

“Before the increase, train users were paying P15. The amount we spend on the MRT operation is P60. So the 86 million were shouldering the P45 difference,” he added.

Moreover, the P12 billion annual subsidy being paid by the government is only for the operation of the MRT and LRT and does not include the improvement and upgrade of the train systems.

With the fare increase, he said, the government could save P2 billion in subsidy, which can be used for the improvement of train services and facilities, such as escalators, elevators, and toilets.

“And if I am asked in 2016: you knew the problem as early as 2011, so why didn’t you do anything to fix this? How shall I respond to that?” he added.

He suggested that critiques of the train fare increase and of the deal the Aquino administration forged with the private consortium, consisting of the Ayala Corporation and the Metro Pacific Investment Corporation, are only out to promote themselves.

“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,” Aquino said.

“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,” he added.

Aquino said delaying further the fare adjustment in LRT Lines 1 and 2 and MRT-3 would only worsen the problem and 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 P45 - higher than what is paid by the actual commuter - for 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 are forthcoming, including repairs of escalators, elevators, and toilets.

At least four petitions have been filed before the Supreme Court a stop to the fare hikes that the government imposed last Jan. 4.

The petitioners, including the party-list group Bayan Muna and former Iloilo congressman Augusto Syjuco, said the fare hike should be stopped because the Department of Transportation and Communication gravely abused its discretion in raising fares.

There is also a growing bipartisan consensus in both houses of Congress that the imposition of the fare hike was “treacherous” and “unacceptable” as described by Senator Grace Poe, but DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya continued to ignore congressional summons to explain the matter.

In December, Abaya snubbed a Senate hearing, presided by Poe, on the train systems purportedly because he was meeting with Korean investors.

On Thursday, Abaya again snubbed a hearing in the House of Representatives where he was called to explain the fare increases at Metro Manila’s train lines.

His representatives, however, made what Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares described as critical admissions to congressmen.

DOTC Undersecretary Jose Perpetuo Lotilla admitted during the hearing that the fare hikes imposed last Jan. 4 was one of the “conditions” in 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 have 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.

The revelations exasperated Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. who demanded a written and detailed explanation while Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said the deal made it appear that the Filipino commuter was being stewed in his own juice.

The congressmen demanded that Abaya personally appear before the House to explain the matter.

“He is the only one who can shed light on this all important issue of the year,” Atienza said.

“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 added.

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