DOTr exec asks House to give ‘Libreng Sakay’ more funds for 2023
MANILA, Philippines — More money is needed to keep the “Libreng Sakay” (free ride) program running, thus a DOTr official has gone to the House of Representatives transportation committee for assistance on the Department of Transportation’s (DOTr) budget allocation for 2023.
During a committee hearing on Thursday, Undersecretary Mark Steven Pastor said that the DOTr had requested P12 billion for 2023 but was not included in the proposed budget or the National Expenditures Program (NEP) submitted by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on Monday.
Pastor made the request after former Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) general manager and now Rizal 3rd District Rep. Jojo Garcia asked whether the government could no longer implement the free ride program.
“So by next year wala nang libreng sakay? (So there won’t be any free ride next year?)” Garcia asked.
“We requested P12 billion po for 2023 budget, however hindi po siya naisama sa National Expenditures Program, we are appealing of course to our legislative branch of government kung maaari pong ma-pondohan pa rin po itong ating service contracting upang next year po ay magkaroon pa rin ng pondo para sa Libreng Sakay,” Pastor replied.
Before that, Garcia also asked whether public utility vehicles involved in the Libreng Sakay program are being compensated properly and timely, as there have been rumblings that public transportation shortage is due to fewer public vehicles plying the roads.
“‘Yong sa contract servicing right now ng mga PUVs, I think kaya nagkakaroon ng pila kaunti ang biyahe ano, or nabayaran na ba ‘yong PUVs? What’s the status?” Garcia asked.
In reply, Pastor said that the DOTr already distributed the P7 billion allocated for that program, while the DBM has issued the P1.4 billion additional funds that would ensure the payment of the public transport modes that participated in the free ride program.
“We have utilized ‘yong P7 billion it will end by — P7 billion po that was given through GAA 2022 at nabayaran, binabayaran po itong ating drivers and operators at bilang tugon po ng ating DBM upang ma-extend po ito hanggang December 31, naibigay na rin po sa amin ‘yong pondong P1.4 billion at isinasaayos po natin ito ngayon dahil kailangan pong ma-extend ‘yong mga kontrata,” he said.
“But rest assured we commit this honorable committee that we will expediently process the documentation and we will pay them at the soonest, at a limited time po para hindi na sila maghintay,” he added.
The free ride program of the government has been a big help for commuters who no longer need to pay for their fares — either in going to work or school — especially amid the rising costs of fuel products.
However, many groups have questioned the program’s sustainability, saying that problems hounding public transportation modes must be addressed instead of providing a temporary treatment or a stop-gap measure.
Despite the criticisms against the program, Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro said that the Libreng Sakay service is much needed, especially with schools resuming face-to-face classes.
Castro also vowed to support any measure of increasing budget allocation for the program.
During the committee hearing, she also asked Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista whether he was aware of the heavy traffic flow during the resumption of classes. Some students even found themselves stranded due to the lack of available transport modes.
In reply, Bautista said that the DOTr will address concerns about roads not being well-built, saying that he has talked to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) about it. However, Castro reiterated that her question was about the Libreng Sakay program.
“Ang tanong ko po ay kung nakita natin ‘yong dami nung mga pasahero na di makasakay kahit na meron po tayong ginagawa na ‘libreng sakay’ dito sa Quezon City pero sa ibang city ata walang ganun pero nakita natin yung kapansin pansin na kakulangan, Mr. Chair, Secretary, nung mga transportation natin, yung mass transportation natin,” Castro asked.
(My question is if you have seen the number of passengers who cannot get a ride even though we have a ‘free ride’ program here in Quezon City, but in other cities, there are none. So we saw a noticeable shortage in our transportation modes, Mr. Chair.)
Bautista then referred the question to Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board chairperson Cheloy Garafil, who said jeepneys and transportation modes with a Certificate of Public Convenience could make trips.
“Ang binuksan po nating ruta for the jeepney operators and drivers are 68 po for the opening of classes. Ito po karamihan po dito yung naputol putol po na ruta na nagtatraverse going to the school zones and university belt areas,” Garafil said.
(We opened 68 routes for the jeepney operators and drivers for the opening of classes. However, this is mostly the broken route that traverses going to the school zones and university belt areas.)
“So ‘yong mga reklamo with regard sa pagrerenew po ng prangkisa ng ating mga jeepeney drivers actually basta holder po sila ng valid na CPC, they don’t need to get a special permit or renew their CPC with us,” she added.
(So those with complaints regarding the renewal of their franchises, especially our jeepney drivers, actually, as long as they hold a valid CPC, they don’t need to get a special permit or renew their CPC with us.)
Despite the free ride service, many commuters in Metro Manila are suffering daily from long lines and having to wait for several hours to get a ride due to traffic congestion along EDSA. With the opening of classes, traffic flow is only seen to get worse with more vehicles plying the roads. With reports from Catherine Dabu, INQUIRER.net trainee