DOTr told: P3B still available for Libreng Sakay, service schemes | Inquirer News
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DOTr told: P3B still available for Libreng Sakay, service schemes

Commuters queue to ride the EDSA Bus Carousel in Monumento, Caloocan City on Wednesday, June 30. Passengers are calling on the government to extend the Libreng Sakay program as the Bayanihan As One Act end its effectiveness on June 30, prompting the DOTr and LTFRB to suspend its Service Contracting and Free Ride starting July 1. – INQUIRER/GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) need not suspend its public transport service contracting and Libreng Sakay programs with the expiration of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) since it still has some P3 billion in available funds.

House transportation panel chair and Samar Rep. Edgar Mary Sarmiento appealed to the agency to extend the programs until public transport has returned to full normalcy.

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“Even with the expiration of the Bayanihan 2 law, the DOTr can continue implementing Libreng Sakay without the need for new legislation. The program has a separate allocation from the national budget of more than P3 billion. This is more than enough to fund the extension of the program until Dec. 30, 2021,” Sarmiento said in a statement.

He said this should give Congress more time to act on pending legislations that would provide money for the extension or even expansion of the scheme.

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Suspended

The DOTr announced the suspension starting July 1 of the Libreng Sakay and service contracting programs following the expiration of the Bayanihan 2 law on June 30. Funds not used with the lapse of the law automatically revert to the Bureau of the Treasury and could not be reallocated without new legislation.

However, Sarmiento explained that both programs could continue because of the P3 billion in unused funding for the DOTr under the 2021 national budget.

He said P8.58 billion was allocated to finance the service contracting program as a form of assistance to the public transport sector. Of this amount, P5.58 billion would come from the Bayanihan 2 fund and P3 billion from the 2021 national budget.

Sarmiento said the DOTr obligated around P1.82 billion and disbursed P1.42 billion from the Bayanihan 2 funds. This represented only 25.44 percent of the total budget for the service contracting program.

With the expiration of the Bayanihan 2 funds, the remaining P3.75 billion out of the P5.58 billion for the service contracting program reverted to the national treasury.

‘True lifesaver’

Sarmiento said the service contracting program was a “true lifesaver” for many public utility drivers and operators who lost their source of livelihood because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The service contracting program allowed drivers to earn based on the number of kilometers traveled, instead of the number of passengers. The free ride program, on the other hand, has reached a ridership of 27.9 million.

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One impact of the lapse of Bayanihan 2 was that the commuting public now faced higher costs in getting to and from their workplaces as fewer jeeps and buses would be on the streets, according to Sen. Risa Hontiveros.

She said the sudden termination of the DOTr’s service contracting program, which was intended to protect the income of drivers and operators and give them steady pay, would likely force drivers and operators to stop plying their routes altogether.

“This is in light of various problems faced by transport workers such as reduced passenger capacity, shorter routes and other pandemic-related restrictions, which have made it almost impossible to sustain their livelihood,” Hontiveros said.

Sudden rise in expenses

She said the DOTr and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) should demand from the Department of Budget and Management the release of their 2021 funding for the service contracting program. The LTFRB earlier sought authorization to use P3 billion under its 2021 budget to continue the service contracting program.

“The disruption of the Libreng Sakay program is not the only effect of the loss of billions of pesos of funds for service contracting [with the lapse of Bayanihan 2],” she said in Filipino.

“If the DOTr and the LTFRB do not act immediately, the expenses of commuters will suddenly rise because of the scarcity of jeeps and buses plying the streets,” Hontiveros warned.

She also urged the DOTr and LTFRB to collaborate with local government units to finance similar agreements to match or even go beyond the P5.58 billion previously allocated for the program under Bayanihan 2.

At the same time, Hontiveros said the DOTr and the LTFRB should fix major issues that have negatively affected the efficiency of the service contracting program, including lengthy and complicated requirements, poor guidelines in relation to routes, and slow disbursement of pay to drivers and operators.

“We hope these agencies act with dispatch to prevent inconveniencing our people,” she said. INQ

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TAGS: Bayanihan 2, DoTr, Free Rides, Libreng Sakay, Transportation
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