Let’s get one thing straight: the government has the capacity to help Filipinos who are in dire need right now due to the rising cost of basic goods and fuel prices.
It has aid programs worth billions of pesos, spread across different agencies, that cater to specific sectors that have been reeling from the effects of persistently high inflation.
One of the sectors worst affected by the skyrocketing fuel prices is transportation, with tricycle drivers feeling the pinch more acutely than most other transport workers.
Tricycle drivers rake in modest earnings even during the best of times, and even this has been decimated by record inflation this year.
This is why news of the Department of Transportation’s fuel subsidy program – worth around P2.5 billion – was a bright spot during an otherwise very dark and challenging time for transport sector workers in general, and tricycle drivers in particular.
However, while most jeepney and taxi drivers have received their fuel subsidies, only 6,000 tricycle drivers nationwide have received theirs.
That number definitely does not make a dent on the hundreds of thousands of tricycles plying the streets all across the country.
This was an issue that Senator Alan Peter Cayetano raised during the Commision on Appointments hearing on December 7, 2022 on the appointment of DOTr ad interim Secretary Jaime Bautista.
When asked why the fuel subsidy program has not reached most tricycle drivers, Sec. Bautista explained that many tricycle drivers did not have e-wallet applications – which was crucial because the DOTr was disbursing the fuel subsidies electronically.
The secretary also mentioned that even up to now, the transportation department does not have a comprehensive list of registered tricycle drivers as it was waiting on the Land Transportation Office and the Department of Interior and Local Government to supply the information.
The task at hand for the DOTr is dead-simple: get the fuel subsidy money to the drivers who need it.
Any district representative could have accomplished this within their respective areas the moment they received the funds, because of the deep knowledge they have of their own territories.
Senator Cayetano minced no words when he said to Secretary Bautista that the Filipino people are tired of excuses – and quite frankly, in this season of record inflation, excuses for delays mean greater suffering for millions of families out there.
Practical steps that the DOTr can take to resolve this issue, as suggested by Senator Cayetano, include getting the list of registered tricycle drivers from the local government units (which collect that information anyway as they are directly in charge of regulating trike operators in their respective jurisdictions).
And instead of disbursing the subsidies electronically because tricycle drivers are either unwilling or unable to use e-wallet applications, the DOTr can simply choose to distribute the fuel subsidy manually, leveraging the tricycle operators-and-drivers associations or TODAs under which almost all trike drivers are organized.
The DOTr said it still has P100 million in undistributed fuel subsidies left.
A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation reveals that this money could still reach as many as 100,000 tricycle drivers.
However small the subsidy ends up being, it would still be a huge gesture for all the trike drivers buckling under the pressure of high gas prices.
Again, the government has billions set aside for crucial aid packages benefiting sectors that are affected by the country’s emerging cost of living crisis.
But it seems this aid is being held up not because of corruption but by some pretty amateur-hour excuses.
We challenge the DOTr: Let’s stop the excuse train now, and give the people the solutions they need.
(The author is a public transport operator. He advocates the improvement of the public transportation system and safe commuters’ rights.)