‘Prangkahan’: Tugade admits there’s ‘failure’ within TRB amid RFID mess
MANILA, Philippines — Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade has admitted to senators that he saw a “failure” in both the leadership and the discharge of functions in the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB), which has been receiving backlash over the problematic implementation of the cashless toll payment scheme.
“Usapang prangkahan ito, nakita ko na there is a failure of implementation dito sa TRB,” Tugade said during Thursday’s hearing of the Senate public services committee.
(Let’s be frank here, I saw a failure of implementation in the TRB.)
Tugade said he already instructed the TRB to conduct a regular audit on the implementation of the radio-frequency identification (RFID) at tollways.
This, after he found out that such an audit is conducted every two years.
“Dapat yung audit na ‘yan, gawin monthly on the least at tapos yung datos na nakukuha, yung mga toll marshal ay inputed diyan on a real-time basis. Kasi po kung a-addressin natin yung problema after two years, bilasa na yung manok, hindi pa nasusulusyunan yung problema. Pero kung ang approach po natin ay real time, makakatulong ito sa sambayanan,” he told senators.
(Such audit should be done monthly on the least and the data collated by toll marshals should be inputted on a real-time basis. If we address the problem only after every two years, it would no longer be effective, but if we have a real-time, it can be of help to the public.)
Further, he said that he instructed the TRB to deploy more roving and stationed toll marshals, especially along major tollways.
Later in the hearing, Tugade reiterated his statement that there seems to be a failure in leadership and implementation in the regulatory board after Senator Sherwin Gatchalian questioned TRB’s lack of key performance indicators for toll operators.
“Kailngan magkaroon ng [There should be a] standard of penalties. The absence of the key performance indicators and the absence of the sanctions and penalties are expressions of the failure of enforcement and failure of implementation,” the transport chief also said.
Asked whose leadership failed, Tugade pointed to TRB executive director Abraham Sales, who was sitting next to him.
Tugade is TRB chair
Public services panel chair Senator Grace Poe, however, also pointed out to Tugade that he himself chairs the TRB as transport agency chief.
“Aren’t you the chairman of the Toll Regulatory Board?…These problems that are now manifesting itself more has been in place, have been experienced by many of our drivers since 2018. So, matagal na po itong mga problema na ito, nung ginawa niyo po ‘yung order na maging cashless, bilang TRB head po siguro nakakarating na sa inyo ang mga problemang ito, pero nagkaroon pa rin kayo ng order na ganyan,” said Poe, who led the hearing as chair of the public services panel.
(Aren’t you the chairman of the Toll Regulatory Board?…These problems that are now manifesting itself more have been in place, and have been experienced by many of our drivers since 2018. It means motorists have been facing this problem for years, when you issued that order on a cashless transaction, as TRB head, you would have been made known of these problems, but still, you decided to push through with this order.)
The senator was referring to Department Order 2020-012 issued in August, which required toll road operators to shift to contactless payments.
In response, Tugade explained that he was assured by the TRB head that the department order was a result of consultations with toll stakeholders.
Further, he argued that he himself is not the one sitting as chair of the board but an undersecretary who he designated to represent him.
“Ipaalam ko lang ho na hindi ho aktwal at personal na persensya namin ang pag-attend ng board kasi ho sa dami ho ng attached agencies namin, eh talagang ‘di ko ho maa-attendan ‘yan kaya nga ho nag-designate kami ng alternate chairman,” he said.
(I want to inform the Senate panel that I don’t have an actual or personal presence on the board because the transport department has a lot of attached agencies, I won’t be able to attend TRB’s meetings that’s why I designated an alternate chairman.)
The regulatory board recently earned the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte, warning its officials that they would be removed in the event of “another fiasco” in the enforcement of the RFID system.
The TRB previously said that the board was dealing with the problems caused by the shift to a cashless toll collection.
The board added that it had ordered tollway operators to replace worn-out and defective sensors, RFID tags and equipment, and relocate RFID installation and reloading lanes to prevent congestion on the turnpikes.
Last Dec. 7, Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian ordered the suspension of the business permit of North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) Corp. following traffic congestion in the city allegedly triggered by the faulty implementation of the toll regulator’s RFID payment scheme. Gatchalian’s order prevented NLEX Corp. from collecting toll from motorists.
Following a meeting between Gatchalian and NLEX Corp., the mayor ordered the “conditional lifting” of the suspension order of the firm’s business permit, which ended the “toll holiday” at NLEX toll gates operating within the city.