MANILA--Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade on Thursday said it was the Toll Regulatory Board's (TRB) fault there was a so-called "failure of implementation" of policies from the cashless payment system that congested traffic in the North Luzon Expressway earlier this month.
The TRB was supposed to ensure that several lanes were still open for cash transactions despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the installation of radio frequency identification (RFID) stickers were not done at toll plazas, Tugade said during a Senate hearing.
"Nakita ko na there is a failure of implementation dito sa TRB," said Tugade, who noted that his directives to retain cash lanes and to station marshals were not rolled out.
(I saw that there was a failure of implementation by the TRB.)
"This morning I have talked with the executive director... There will be a management evaluation," he said, when asked how TRB officials would be sanctioned.
Tugade acknowledged the board also failed to regularly monitor toll concessionaires.
"'Yung audit sa RFID ginagawa lang once every 2 years. Nag-init ang ulo ko diyan," he said.
(The audit for the RFID is only done once every 2 years. That angered me.)
"Dapat 'yung audit na 'yan gawing monthly at yung data na nakukuha ng mga marshall inputed yan on the spot."
(The audit should be done monthly and the data should be inputted on the spot.)
The TRB also allegedly failed to collect P44.24 million in toll fees in 2017 and P859.94 million in 2019, Senate Committee on Public Services chair Grace Poe said, citing data from the Commission on Audit.
"The Toll Regulatory Board, as the primary regulator of toll operators, cannot escape the blame," Poe said.
"Truth be told, TRB can’t even do its job of collecting toll fees that well."
Guiguinto town, Bulacan Mayor Boy Cruz said the TRB has been giving an impression that it was not acting on the welfare of the public.
"Nagkakaroon ng persepsyon na ang TRB ay mas prinoproteksyunan ang concessionaire kaysa sa public," he told lawmakers in the Senate hearing.
(There is a perception that the TRB is protecting the concessionnaire more than the public.)
Tugade, who chairs the TRB, apologized for the inconvenience brought by the faulty RFID system in the said expressway, saying some issues never reached his office.
"Hindi ko ho nakukuha 'yung detalye ng mga report," he said.
(I do not get some details of the report.)
"Siguro ho ang ginagawa nila ay reporting by exemption . . . Siguro ho hindi na nila pinaparating sakin sapagkat naniniwala sila na kaya nila addressin 'yung problema."
(Maybe they do not report everything to me, because they think that they can address problems in their level.)
Undersecretary Benny Reinoso, assigned to represent Tugade at the TRB, said the board could only do so much since it is just an attached agency of the Department of Transportation (DOTr).
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Richard Gordon, who both served as Cabinet members in previous administrations, refuted Reinoso's claim.
"Matagal din po ako sa burokrasya. Those are all theoretical. Ang totoo diyan, puwede mo utusan 'yung executive director, 'Hoy, gawin mo ito at 'pag hindi mo ginawa, you could be disciplined,'" Drilon said.
Gordon added: "Dapat meron kang liderato na mapipigil mo 'yung ganiyang problema . . . All it needs is the will of the leader... who will not give excuses but will fix the problem."
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said the North Luzon Expressway operator was also to blame since glitches in its RFID scanners were being experienced by motorists as early as 2017.
While the NLEX had its faults, Gatchalian underscored that the TRB failed to impose sanctions against the expressway operator for at least 3 years.
"Hindi ba pinaglalaruan lang ang taumbayan? Mayroon kayong kapangyarihan, hindi ninyo ginagamit?" Gatchalian told TRB officials present in the hearing.
(Aren't they already fooling the public? You have powers, and yet you're not using it?)
"Pinagtatawanan na lang ho tayo ng mga operator."
(The operators are just laughing at us.)
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier called the TRB officials "incompetent", noting that their failure to "test" the RFID system first before issuing a directive for all toll operators to implement a 100 percent cashless transaction scheme.
Duterte said he would consider placing former military men to head the TRB.