QC court halts provincial bus ban

Mike Navallo and John Gabriel Agcaoili, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 02 2019 06:54 PM | Updated as of Aug 03 2019 02:21 PM

MANILA (UPDATE)—Provincial buses may continue to ply EDSA as a Quezon City court has issued a preliminary injunction against the ban on buses from outside Metro Manila at the major thoroughfare.

In an order dated July 31, Quezon City Branch 223 Judge Caridad Walse-Lutero granted the plea of of Nagkakaisang Samahan ng Nangangasiwa ng Panlalawigang Bus sa Pilipinas Inc. and 16 other bus operators to halt the implementation of Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) Memorandum Circular No. 2019-001 and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Regulation No. 19-002.

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The LTFRB order bars provincial buses from passing through EDSA and requires them to stop at designated endpoints, while the MMDA regulation prohibits the issuance of business permits or revokes those already issued to provincial bus terminals along EDSA.

The move was meant to ease traffic congestion in Metro Manila, with both agencies claiming the orders were an exercise of police power for public welfare.

But the Quezon City court rejected the government agencies’ assumption that “public land transportation service is contributing to the worsening traffic conditions due to the presence of terminals in the Metropolis, especially along EDSA.”

The court said a bus carrying 50 passengers is roughly the size of about 3 cars, pointing out that some private vehicles only carry 1 passenger.

“For the same space occupied on the road, a bus ferries more people than private vehicles, and yet one could find more of the latter traversing the roads including the national highways, EDSA being one of them. The conclusion therefore that the buses, especially the provincial buses and their terminals, are the ones causing the traffic seems to be unfounded,” it said.

It also questioned why P2P (point-to-point) buses from the provinces are treated differently and are allowed to ply through EDSA when there is “no substantial distinction” between them and regular provincial buses.

Under the equal protection clause in the Constitution, two classes can be treated differently if a substantial distinction between the two exists.

The court noted that while the MMDA held meetings with bus operators, these meetings did not involve the LTFRB and without proof that the bus operators opposing the ban were notified and given the chance to be heard, a violation of due process.

The court also faulted the agencies for their failure to present any study to support their claims that provincial buses cause traffic and that banning them on EDSA and closing their terminals is the best solution available.

JICA TRAFFIC STUDY: IT’S THE CARS

Contrary to the MMDA and LTFRB’s position, the bus operators cited a March 2014 report from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) which blamed the increase in car traffic and lower car and vehicle occupancy rates.

The same study also found that 72 percent of road traffic can be attributed to cars.

“[I]t would seem that the conclusion reached by the LTFRB that the provincial buses are the main reason for the traffic is incorrect. Unless the LTFRB has conducted a more recent study showing otherwise and unless such study is presented to this Court, the latter should only rely on the JICA and NEDA study,” it explained.

In granting the temporary injunction plea of the bus operators, the court said they have shown a “clear and unmistakable right” that is in danger of “irreparable injury” should the issuances be implemented.

“The closure of the Plaintiffs’ terminals has far-reaching effects. It would affect not only their respective business, but their respective contracts with others as well,” the court said, citing their contracts with their employees and lease contracts for the use of the land where the terminals are located.

The court also expressed concern over the salary of the bus operators’ employees.

“While as a rule, the right to income or earning does not prevail over public welfare, in the instant case since the Court has as yet not been presented with a clear basis or sufficient justification for the issuances, there is no reason to consider these issuances to have priority over the Plaintiffs’ rights as well as those that would suffer from their implementation,” it added.

In the same order, the court gave the Office of the Solicitor General, which represents the LTFRB and MMDA, until August 14 to submit both agencies’ response to the suit.

Various groups have questioned the legality of the provincial bus ban before the Supreme Court, claiming the MMDA does not have the authority to ban provincial buses along EDSA as the agency does not have legislative nor police powers. They rely on a 2007 Supreme Court ruling which invalidated former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s similar directive to close down bus terminals along EDSA in 2003.

They also questioned whether the provincial bus ban would effectively address traffic congestion.

AKO-Bicol party-list filed its petition on April 29 while Albay Rep. Joey Salceda followed suit on May 27. The Makabayan bloc filed its own petition on June 7.