“Habang sumisikip lalo yung highways tapos yung ibang option ng tao ay ‘yung LRT mas nakadagdag sa pasanin ng commuter na tumataas ‘yung presyo ng fare tapos kasabay pa ng inflation rate na sobrang mahal na rin ng gastusin natin sa pambili palang ng basic necessities,” said Luigi Lalas, a running candidate for councilor under Sulong Party in the University Student Council (USC) in University of the Philippines Manila.

Transport groups, solons, and experts affirmed rail systems help ease traffic congestion, most especially when Metro Manila ranked 2nd with the worst traffic congestion based on the 2022 Tomtom Traffic Index report.

Meanwhile, commuters like Luigi will take yet another toll on the recent implementation of fare hikes on Light Rail Transits (LRT) 1 and 2 effective on August 2.

According to Light Rail Manila Corporation (LRMC) and Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA), a new minimum fare of P14 and a maximum fare of P35 for stored value cards (SVCs) while single journey tickets (SJTs) will cost P35 from P15 charge.

As for Luigi who rides both LRT lines 1 and 2 from Manila to Antipolo and vice versa would now cost him P98 to P110. That is, riding LRT 1 from UN Avenue to Doroteo Jose stations now cost P16 for SVC while P20 for SJT; and riding LRT 2 from Recto to Antipolo station now cost P33 for SVC while P35 for SJT. The same charge applies for vice versa.

Anti-masa, Anti-estudyante

“Matandaan natin nasiraan nga ‘yung LRT2 na imbis na umabot ng Santolan hanggang Cubao nalang siya, so ako nung time na iyon ay mas nahirapan ako mag-commute kasi imbis na mas malapit nalang ‘yung sasakayan ko ay kailangan ko pa bumiyahe mula Cubao hanggang Antipolo,” stressed Luigi.

He recalled the 2019 and 2020 fire incidents in LRT-2 when operations from Anonas to Santolan were suspended and further delayed brought about by pandemic restrictions.

“Ang inaabot sa akin noon ay nadagdagan ‘yung oras ko ng byahe kasi dapat at least 1 hour and 30 minutes ay dirediretso na; kaso nung nasiraan nga ng tren ay umaabot ng dalawang oras,” he added.

Luigi deemed as if the budget or fund allocations to transportation and social services especially during the pandemic up to this date have little-to-no transparency from the current Marcos Jr. administration.

“Kailangan kasi i-consider ‘yung ugat ng kahirapan sa transportation system natin na sobrang car-centric at sobrang privatized,” Luigi added.

It was during the Aquino administration in 2014 when LRMC was awarded a P65-billion contract by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) in a build-transfer-operate structure (BTO) to operate and maintain the LRT1 under Private-Partnership Program (PPP).

Ibon Foundation scored PPP will mean greater costs for the tax-paying public and more fare hikes for commuters, while assuring guaranteed profits for Light Rail Manila owners.

Govt, private firms profit from public transport system

“Mabilisan yung pag-anunsiyo ng pagtaas ng pamasahe, at sabi nga mabilis din ang pagapruba ng Department of Transportation (DOTr) sa suhestiyon ng pagtaas ng pamasahe, at dunpalang sa pagratsada ng pag-apruba ay hindi na natin nakita o nalaman, hindi tayo nakonsulta kung gusto ba natin ‘yung pagtaas ng pamasahe.” League of Filipino Students UP Manila spokesperson and also a co-candidate as councilor under Sulong Party for UPM-USC Kyla Benedicto said.

It is important to note that youth groups, and worker groups challenged the fare hike proposals during a DOTr’s public hearing last February 17, emphasizing how students returning to onsite classes and minimum-wage workers will be the most affected by said fare increase. 

“Kung cocomputein natin ‘yung mga kinikita nila (operators), kung magkano kinikita nung nagmamay-ari ng LRT ngayon palang na hindi pa tinataasan ‘yung presyo ay malaki na yun. At kapag tinaasan pa ay mas lalaki yung kikitain nila,” Kyla furthered.

LRTA expected to reach a P1.4 billion revenue this year following the daily passenger volume since the pandemic restrictions have eased. In its projected revenues, P1.3 billion will be from rail and P116 million from non-rail. 

“Ang tanong natin dito ay saan napupunta yung binabayad ng pasahero ng LRT, at pangalawa paano ito naipapakita sa pagpapaganda ng mga faciliities sa LRT?” Kyla questioned.

Meanwhile, former and incumbent LRTA officials and private individuals have been accused of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act No. 3019), as well as the Government Procurement Reform Act (Republic Act No. 9184) filed before the Office of the Ombudsman on May 25, 2023.

They are further alleged of grave misconduct, gross incompetence, gross neglect of duty, and serious dishonesty.

The following names include LRTA Administrator Hernando Cabrera, former LRTA Administrator and now Philippine National Railways General Manager Jeremy Regino, as well as Santos Abrazado, Paul Chua, Jose Jobel Belarmino, Federico Canar, Cesar Legaspi, Hilfred Tusing, and Aylvinston Pillos. 

Private individuals who are representatives of LRTA contractors Multiscan, Brownsteel and Worldleaders are Yollee Ong-Ramos, Joseph Ramos, Ma. Grazia Lee, and two Korean nationals of Woo Jin Corporation.

Lawyer and anti-graft advocate Gerry Francisco argued that the above-named officials have committed unlawful upgrade works.

Oppose the fare hikes

“Nararapat na ngayon ay mabawasan man lang ng kahit konti ‘yung subsidy na binibigay ng gobyerno.” LRTA administrator Hernando Cabrera justified the imposed hikes following multiple delays, referring to the deferment of the LRT 1 and 2 fare increase due to rising inflation last April.

However, LRT-1 is privately operated, while LRT-2 and Metro Rail Transit are a state-run and government subsidized rail system. As a matter of fact, of the P5.268 billion approved budget for 2023, P143.95 billion had been allocated to finance the ongoing transport projects which included the developments for LRT-2 and MRT.

Sa pagbaba ng subsidy, makikita natin dito na sobrang misplaced nga. Na kung sana nilaan nalang nila sa pagpapabuti ng facilities natin especially dun sa larangan ng health, lalo na nasa pandemiya tayo, at sa larangan ng edukasyon,” Luigi contested.

Based on the proposed 2024 National Expenditure Program, the University of the Philippines system budget is lowered by 2.9 billion, receiving a P22.587 billion budget allocation, from the P25.516 total budget it got for 2023. 

“Siyempre bilang estudyante na hindi nakakaranas ng maayos na pasilidad, specifically sa UPM na sa kasulukuyan ay sobrang limited lang yung spaces namin, may pagkakataon pa na naghahanap kami ng ibang means para magkaroon ng espasyo, dito talagang makikita yung misplacement ng budget o yung funds,” Luigi explained.

As advocates for student representation, Kyla and Luigi emphasized the need for genuine student participation and representation to address pressing socio-economic and political issues including the Mandatory Reserve Officers Training Corps (MROTC), the increasing presence of US military bases in the country, the proliferation of Chinese bases in the West Philippine Sea, the Return Service Agreement (RSA), and the lack of student spaces.

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