Fuel aid exempted from spending ban
Financial assistance programs for public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers have been exempted from the public spending ban ahead of the Oct. 30 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) approved the exemption on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after receiving the written requests from the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).
Comelec Chair George Garcia said they did not want to hinder the LTFRB’s performance of its duties.
Garcia said the LTFRB may have sought the exemption from the election spending ban to ensure that there won’t be legal questions against its distribution of the fuel subsidy.
“Maybe they wanted to be sure that they won’t be encountering complaints. If I were in their shoes, I would also ask for an exemption, and for my part, we won’t deny applications for exemption if the one requesting it is a national government agency and a regular project of the said agency,” he said.
Comelec allowed the continued disbursement of public funds for the P1.06-billion fuel subsidy program for PUV providers greatly affected by the incessant fuel price hikes.
The P1.984-billion PUV service contracting program and the P1.05-billion PUV modernization program were also allowed to continue during the election period.
The DOTr and the LTFRB told Comelec that under the fuel subsidy program, P1.06 billion would be disbursed for the rest of the year not only to help PUV providers affected by the fuel price hikes but also “prevent further fare increases.”
Under the PUV service contracting program, P1.984 billion would be released for the rest of the year as financial assistance for public transport service providers based on the trips made regardless of the number of passengers, as well as free rides for commuting workers.
According to the DOTr and the LTFRB, the implementation of the PUV modernization program, which has been allocated a total of P1.056 billion for the rest of the year, was “urgent and essential.”
This is due to the “impact to transport sector stakeholders not only of the COVID-19 pandemic but also the continuous rise in oil prices, which demands intervention measures of the government to ensure availability of an efficient and sustainable public road transport system,” the two agencies told Comelec.
The LTFRB began distributing the fuel subsidies last Sept. 13 after securing P3 billion in funds released by the Department of Budget and Management. The fuel subsidy program entitled qualified operators of modern public utility jeepneys and UV Express vans to receive P10,000, while operators of other PUVs will receive P6,500.
Unless expressly allowed by Comelec, the law prohibits the release of public funds during election periods to prevent politicians from influencing voters with government aid.
Violations of the prohibition shall constitute an election offense and will be punishable by imprisonment of one to six years.The spending ban kicked in last Sept. 15 and will last until Oct. 30.
Last week, Comelec exempted from the spending ban the P800 million cash subsidy program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development for rice retailers affected by the price caps.
The election body had also exempted the emergency employment and livelihood assistance programs of the Department of Labor and Employment.