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By Erick A. Fabian

Colorum bus companies operating in Metro Manila exist because several corrupt officials in the Department of Transportation and Communications and its agencies are in collaborating with illegal bus operators.

The operators are often relatives and associates of politicians with vested interests in the DOTC’s agencies.

Since 2013, several tragic bus accidents in the Metro and the provinces have shown that the DOTC’s respective agencies Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and Land Transportation Office (LTO) are not capable of stopping the unauthorized bus companies.

In a recent claim to aggressively rid the streets of colorum PUV operations, the DOTC and the two aforementioned transport agencies issued a Joint Administrative Order (JAO) No. 2014-01, that essentially charges Php1 Million on colorum bus operators for first offense, and successive amounts for offenders depending on the type of vehicle used in violation.

Useless Fines
These fines will not prevent illegal bus operators from operating and continue in bribing government officials. They can easily afford a million pesos just to keep their dilapidated-but-repainted buses in the highways.

Former president and current Manila mayor Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada even revealed to the public that colorum bus operators can afford to pay Php150,000 per day (Php1,050,000 in a week) in bribes.

Mayor Estrada has proven that political will and a strict and systematic enforcement of laws are more effective in keeping colorum buses out of the national capital.

The million-peso fine is also suspect as it seems like disguised bribery. All that a colorum operator needs to do is to prepare the money and still continue with his operations like nothing happened.

It is a racketeering scheme in a sense that certain insiders in the LTFRB and LTO can benefit from the fine charges, unless a genuinely transparent system can be put in place.

Spineless MMDA
The MMDA lost its spine the moment former chairman Bayani Fernando left it to successors that eventually led to Aquino apointee Francis Tolentino.

Like Erap, Fernando had the political will to address the colorum problem but had very little time left to fully engage it.

That Fernando also did not get the full support of the LTFRB in prosecuting colorum bus owners is quite telling. There are officials in the agency who treat colorum bus owners as untouchables.

The public secret is that the operators of these colorum buses are police generals, politicians, and oftentimes, the mistresses of both. Celebrities with government ties also own some of these unauthorized bus companies.

Empty Sanctions
DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya has warned unauthorized operators that any colorum bus caught in violation will be impounded and blacklisted for PUV use in the future.

This kind of sanctioning is ineffective and superficial because colorum operators can always buy cheap discard buses from China, South Korea and Japan, as has been customary for certain bus operators in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces.

The vehicle can also be made to appear unregistered through skillful tampering of the chassis and engine, then repainted and registered under a different name.

Sources have attested that there are fixer syndicates working within the ranks of the LTO and LTFRB who specialize in such racketeering schemes.

What the DOTC should do is take away the bus franchise of the violators, and ban the operators and their close associates from running any kind of transport business for the sake of the lives that can be saved.

It makes one wonder why the LTFRB and LTO rarely penalize those who should be punished, whether they are not doing much because there are officials there colluding with colorum operators.

The Don Mariano bus accidents of the past few years should be indicator enough that the LTFRB and LTO are impotent in preventing major accidents from happening.

Influence Peddling
Journalist Raissa Robles has raised the issue of LTFRB not revealing to the public the names of colorum bus operators, other than a list of ‘Manila’s Most Dangerous Buses’ in 2011.

Is LTFRB trying to hide benefactors linked to the Aquino administration, officials who are related either by blood or affinity to colorum operators?

Reportedly, Melissa L. Lim and Dalmacio Lim Jr., both owners of canceled franchisee Don Mariano Transit Corporation, are listed as financial contributors in the 2013 campaign of two prominent lawmakers.

Critics have also noted that the LTFRB and LTO have given out an excessive number of franchises in the past, and that these were supposedly approved to favor campaign supporters.

Some Possible Solutions
Transportation expert Dr. Yves Boquet, a French national who worked in research with the UP Department of Geography, proposed solutions to the colorum problem based on his study of Asian cities entering modernization as they grow into metropolitan size, as in the case of Metro Manila.

One way is to plan the city to limit travel needs. Bus rapid transits, or roads and highways dedicated exclusively to authorized buses, can be constructed within proximity of major urban and commercial centers, and be connected to terminals and airports apart from the main roads. It will be operated similar to train stations.

Cebu is already making plans to create the country’s first BRT, expected to be fully operational in 2017.

Another is to strictly enforce the ‘no terminal policy’ on a nationwide level, as in the case of the City of Manila, where Estrada pushed for the banning of buses if they do not have a terminal within city proper.

Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno has also emphasized on the importance of having approved bus terminals in Manila, and bus operators are charged a fee to use them.

These terminals also function as safeguards against colorum bus operators, who will be easily exposed if they try to bribe their way into the ‘no colorum zone’.