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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
Taken for a ride
The government may not realize it, but its privatization tack for toll roads raises more questions than answers in light of how motorists are taken for a ride.
In far north, commuters are raising hue and cry over how they are being shortchanged by a foreign-backed toll road operator, despite the prying eyes of the state-run Toll Regulatory Board (TRB).
A critical look at the numbers of Manila North Tollways Corp. (MNTC) betrays the supposedly socialized pricing policy of privatized public highways.
Pocketing profits at enormous levels smacks of callousness and corporate greed in the face of runaway inflation rate that has exacerbated a woeful life in the countryside.
Linking Manila to northern Luzon, the 94-km North Luzon Expressway typifies how contractors had turned privatization of infrastructure projects into a multi-billion pesos enterprise.
At the very least, the NLEX should serve as a benchmark, a moral compass for the government before selling off contracts to private parties.
Possible lessons range from how toll rates should be kept at a reasonable level, not beyond the means of ordinary wage earners who comprise the bulk of the daily commuters traversing through the expressway.
Not surprising why some corporate titans are locked in a bitter rivalry to corner the sale of profit-driven toll road contracts.
More than prestige, their ever-widening chase for greater wealth is also at stake.
Certainly, the proposed multi-billion pesos Cavite-Laguna Expressway would pose a challenge to those who frame its privatization, mindful of how it would affect the commuters’ daily routine –and the economic costs it would entail.
Bearing in mind the project’s multiplier effects, those at the helm of its proposed sale to the private sector must account for whatever consequence it would ensue later – adverse or favorable.
By Erick A. Fabian
PNoy and his Liberal Party cohorts are moving forward in their plan to sell the Philippines, one train system at a time, to Chinese corporate interests.
Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Undersecretary Rene Limcauco is being used as bait for the Chinese train companies, most probably with his consent, in a deadly game being played by Liberal Party appointees and presidential cousin Jorge Licauco.
Limcauco was one of the speakers at the 2013 Asia Pacific Rail, a rail industry event of which the speakers and attendees are mostly from China’s rail industry.
The deals that were made within and after the conference came into play as the MRT-3 expansion plans were rolled out.
Usec Limcauco is co-chair of the Philippine National Railways and scion of the Limcaocos, owners of the Lica business group. His interest in the matter stems from his family’s intent to expand into the lucrative railway industry.
The Lica Group is known for its car dealerships, as a supplier of farming vehicles, and as a real estate developer.
It’s hard not to imagine that direct involvement with the MRT-3 operations will be of utmost profit for the group.
It’s a strategic move for expansion, and Chinese companies are scrambling for the kill.
News publications like South China Morning Post have given out the impression in its report last year that there is a billion-dollar gold rush in the Philippines.
Local transport systems are slowly being doled out by the Aquino administration via the DOTC to Chinese companies with close links to the government of China, as in the case of Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Company.
That President Benigno Aquino is being used as a spineless lackey for Liberal Party agenda is no secret. That he is a willing accomplice to their plans to squeeze and strangle the country’s economy dry of its lifeblood is nothing new either.
But what very few in mainstream media address is that PH Trams’ sudden appearance into the MRT-3 bidding scene looks like a trick orchestrated with deft hands by Aquino’s cohorts and their Liberal Party friends, so that they can keep the MRT -3 pie to themselves.
In Broad Daylight
It seems that very little effort was made by the incorporators of PH Trams to conceal the fact that it was made up of the same people who were either Liberal Party appointees or involved in the alleged Inekon extortion scandal.
It is very telling of how these people think of the public: they assume that the Filipino people are so used to being robbed that doing it outright would make not much of a difference.
This is an act of robbery because Filipino workers and commuters who rely on the train to get to work are not going to get the quality service that they deserve.
Public Safety, High Stakes
Our public safety is being played around in a game of high stakes that favors China’s plans for economic and political expansion in Southeast Asia.
The question still remains as to whether the trams to be supplied by Dalian Locomotive are safe enough to be used with the old Czech-supplied train technology.
The overcrowding in the stations might prove to add to the hazards, not to mention potential casualties should the Dalian trams fail.
PH Trams, despite its partnership with Comm Builders & Technology Corp., still has to create a track record, as it is barely a year old.
The CB & T partnership seemed like it was done as an afterthought, to provide credibility to PH Trams.
After all, the concerned public found it unbelievable that the bidding was awarded to a new company that does not even have a website as of this time.
The practice of government insiders creating a new company to compete in government biddings, under the guise of being a privately incorporated outfit, has long been considered de-rigeur despite being questionable.
Some do it to cut costs, others to make kickbacks.
It often happens when an agency wants public biddings to play out in their favor. Quality of service is often sacrificed in such as practice, and the recipients suffer.
But those things do not matter when those who intend to benefit from these transactions see the money coming into their bank accounts.
Former MRT-3 manager Al Vitangcol’s resignation and his uncle-in-law Arturo Soriano’s leaving from PH Trams sounded like it was scripted, both being part of the game played so that Aquino’s LP appointees can move in without much protest.
Chinese companies have been eyeing prospects in the Philippines and all over the ASEAN region since last year, and most of them involve transport and rail systems.
We should learn from history that those who control the trains, will control the country. The opening of the American ‘Wild West’ in the 19th century was done through robber barons who controlled railroads and trains.
The Aquino administration may end in 2016, but the Liberal Party’s people and system will then be well-established.
Even as the ASEAN starts opening up trade relations in 2015, investors in the region will find that China has already gained a foothold all over, and its political-economic influence is what they will have to deal with.