MANILA, Philippines - The Aquino administration appealed to the public for sobriety as certain groups reportedly called for protests in the wake of the Supreme Court decision allowing 250% to 300% toll hikes at major road networks leading to Metro Manila.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told reporters in an interview Friday that the Palace understands the public's concern that the Court's decision will result in higher transportation cost for commuters and goods plying the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx), South Luzon Expressway (SLEx) and South Metro Manila Skyway Project (Skyway).
Lacierda shared that the Palace is hoping that, with visible effects, such as improved service, convenience, and ease of traffic, the public will be "reasonable" and "willing to accept" the hike. They are banking on the NLEX experience a few years ago when toll fees were increased after the road quality vastly improved following repairs, rehabilitation, and widening efforts by the project concessionaire.
On Thursday, a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court en bank junked 2 petitions filed by Albay Gov. Joey Salceda and lawyer Ernesto Francisco that sought to stop a looming toll hike at the 77-kilometer SLEx.
The High Court also lifted the temporary restraining order it issued last August 13 on the rate hike favoring the opposing groups. However, has not yet lifted the TRO issued on the same day on the imposition of a 12% VAT on toll.
Radio DZMM reported Friday that militant transport group Piston and other people's organizations are already planning for a series of protests. DZMM said Piston secretary general George San Mateo and allied transport, commuters, and consumer groups are dismayed over the Supreme Court decision and will be meeting for the details of their protest action.
Piston warned that the decision will not only affect fares but also the price of goods being transported from the south. SLEx is the main artery that connects provinces in South Luzon to Metro Manila, the country's economic and political capital.
|Looming toll hike at SLEx
||Alabang to Calamba (end-to-end)
|Current toll rate
||New rates (at 250% hike)
1 (car and jeepneys)
|2 (bus and trucks)
|3 (trailers and large trucks)
In an interview with ANC, Homer Mercado, head of the South Luzon Bus Operators' Association (SLBOA), said the group will file their request for a fare hike to pass on the toll increase following the Supreme Court decision.
"Fare will have to be adjusted to help cover the 250% toll increase," he said in a phone patch. "We will file our request [at the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board or LTFRB] as soon as the fare hike is implemented." The LTFRB is the regulatory body that oversees fare hikes.
Mercado told ABS-CBN News that they intend to file their fare hike petition 2 to 3 days after the hike is implemented. They will likely seek for a 30-centavo increase per kilometer. Currently, fare in ordinary buses is at P1.30/km and P1.65/km for airconditioned buses.
Once the hike is implemented, a 50-km bus ride from Calamba in Laguna to Lawton in Manila will likely increase to P80 from the current P65.
Earlier, retail oil firms also warned of higher fuel prices once toll rates are raised.
Motion for reconsideration
Lawyer Ernesto Francisco Jr told ANC in an interview Friday that the Toll Regulatory Board, the body that has previously approved the controversial toll hike, cannot immediately implement the toll hike since he will be filing a motion for reconsideration to press the High Court to nullify agreements between TRB and the private concessionaires of the road projects.
The agreements, called the STOA, provide provisions allowing series of toll increases as a way for the concessionaires to recoup the costs of improving the road conditions.
"The Supreme Court Decision is not yet final and hence, the SLEX toll rate increase should not be implemented yet. I am definitely filing a motion for reconsideration of the said Decision," Francisco said in a statement Friday.
"I am asking the people [especially the commuting public] to show their discontent to the Supreme Court. [This decision] will impose a tremendous burden on them... In the end, it is the commuting public who will suffer since this is not a one-time deal. [This will be the basis for rate increases] every 2 or 3 years for the next 25 or so years," he told ANC.
Review of toll rates
Francisco also stressed that, while the Court's decision upheld the constitutional basis of a toll hike, the Court has also remanded one of his earlier petitions to the TRB to ensure that the planned new rate adjustments have been properly studied.
The Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) said on Friday that its board will review the Court decision Wednesday or on October 27. Until then, the toll at SLEx will remain at its current levels.
From Alabang to Calamba, motorists driving class 1 vehicles will likely have to pay P76 from the current P22 once the increase is implemented. For class 2 vehicles, motorist will have to pay about P152 from the current P43. For class 3, P228 from P65.
Meantime, Datu Azmil Khalid, chairman of SLEx operator South Luzon Tollway Corp (SLTC) welcomed the Supreme Court decision.
In an interview with ANC, Khalid said "We thank God for the Supreme Court decision. We are losing something like P6 million a day and we don't know how much longer we could go on."
A Malaysian firm, which is a partner in the SLTC joint venture, has previously said they faced the possibility of defaulting on the loans that financed the road improvements amounting to some P12 billion.- from reports of Zen Hernandez, Willard Cheng, and Alvin Elchico, ABS-CBN News