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Tribune Editorial

Problem is rundown transport system

Saturday, 19 August 2017 00:00 Published in Editorial


The Duterte administration should focus on improving public transportation which is the tacit message being issued in the outcry against the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) suspension of ride-hailing firm Uber.
The technology-driven service provided by Uber is  just one of the many similar modes of transport through a smartphone application or app that if the LTFRB officials would spare a few moments of their thoughts, would realize that Uber is different from the usual taxi or jeepney services.
The popularity of Uber was the culmination of the neglect from the past administration of the public transport system such as the unreliable mass railways that persist until now, the cheap but unpredictable jeepney and bus rides and the arrogance of taxi drivers who will take a passenger only with “a plus 50” (an additional P50 on the regular fare) if the destination is not to their liking.
The ride hailing services, in contrast, showed commuters would gladly pay a little premium for comfort and safety since the ride-hailing service includes a booking fee.
The booking fee has become an issue as taxi drivers wonder why commuters complain about the P50 overcharge while they willingly pay the booking fee which is usually the same price.
The differences, however, are the element of coercion in the taxi drivers’ demand and the far different comfort and assurance in the so-called transport network system ride.
Banning Uber will only mean the entry of new similar services using new technology that the LTFRB will have a hard time regulating with its antiquated rules.
The contention was that most 60,000 or so Uber vehicles are “colorums” which is a definition taken from a jeepney or taxi using a borrowed franchise.
The LTFRB said Uber refused to be regulated but the regulator didn’t seem to know how to approach the new business since it refused the application of most of the Uber vehicle operators.
Government rules and regulations appear to have become outdated as the regulator is struggling to keep up with the technology advances.
The vacuum created by the Uber suspension was immediately taken advantage by its competitors, Grab and u-HOP, which the LTFRB assisted by offering licenses to Uber vehicle operators who shift to the other firms.
While the commotion is going on, Texas-based ride hailing firm Arcade City immediately jumped in and launched services in the Philippines offering to take in the displaced Uber drivers and operators.
Arcade City immediately took in more than 200 drivers across the Philippines or in Manila and others in Cebu City, Angeles and Batangas where Uber usually operates.
The LTFRB, again found itself in a bind, and ordered Arcade City to cease operations saying  it may have engaged in “colorum” operations.
The term colorum even may need a redefinition under the new order since in other countries the operators are considered as small business owners with the ride-hailing service as a partner.
Arcade City in response to the LTFRB order insisted it is not similar to Uber and should not be covered by the same rules that were applied to it or any other public transport that it regulates.
Arcade City said it is a peer-to-peer service and does not accept payment from riders or drivers.
Peer-to-peer means a group with a common interest coming together to push their welfare and not necessarily for profit.
It said it is does not provide “pre-arranged transportation services for compensation” and therefore does not fit the LTFRB definition of a transportation network company.”
The bottomline, however, is the public demand for efficient and comfortable transportation that it has been continually deprived of is not being answered by the government.
As long as the demand is there, companies like Uber will have its presence.

Untying the Gordian knot

Friday, 18 August 2017 00:00 Published in Editorial

The corruption that is the Gordian knot at the Bureau of Customs (BoC) needs an Alexandrian solution beyond merely the changing of the guards that has proven futile whoever is appointed to run the agency.
The Senate blue ribbon committee hearing into the P6.4-billion shabu smuggling invites a sense of hopelessness as viewers see proud soldiers, mainly Marines, whose idealism made them launch failed coups in the past reduced to tears amid the scandal of epic proportions involving the string of shabu shipments that slipped right through their noses.
Rody believes that the burning idealism among the Oakwood mutineers less Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who had long exchanged idealism for opportunism, would serve his administration well by applying it on the colony of corruption in the BoC.
What has thus far transpired in the Senate provided a window into the web of corruption in the BoC which probably applies also to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).
The BoC and the BIR are the main sources of government revenues and also where corruption is apparently accepted as routine.
The public even accepts the fact that working with the BoC and the BIR is a shortcut to wealth, the same way people accept that politicians are necessarily filthy rich even without a source of livelihood other than being a “public servant.”
Cleaning up the Customs bureau would take resolute leaders of several administrations to do. The administration of Rody will have a hard time in even reducing the pervasive corrupt practices in it.
The group responsible for the shabu shipment was making a statement in that Rody can’t do anything against the entrenched syndicates that rules the agency.
Customs Commissioner Nick Faeldon who had eluded capture after leading several mutinies did not seem prepared in taking on the daunting task as head of the bureau despite bringing in most of the rebel soldier leaders who had advocated change similar to what Rody promised to those who had voted him into the presidency.
Rody has a proposal as a presidential candidate that is worth looking into since it would be similar to Alexander cutting the perplexing Gordian knot which is to privatize the revenue collections that would in effect abolish both the BoC and the BIR.
The expensive cost of bringing in private firms to do the jobs of the BIR and the BoC has long been studied to be recoverable through far higher revenue collections.
Rody had said that privatizing the revenue collection services will put an end to well-entrenched syndicate composed of corrupt officials and employees.
“The Bureau of Customs should be privatized. That is the only way we can dismantle and end the systemic corruption in that agency,” Duterte said.
He then indicated that privatization is also the way to go for the BIR and the GSIS (Government Service Insurance System).
Several international firms such as the Swiss Societe Generale de Surveillance, Bureau Veritas, Intertek, TÜV, Germanischer Lloyd (DNV GL), AS International and Cotecna, offer valuation services for the purpose of revenue collections.
During the term of the late President Cory Aquino, the SGS was commissioned to provide pre-shipment valuation services that helped reduce technical smuggling.
Rody’s proposal is much more radical which is the complete transfer of services that is the source of corrupt practices to private firms.
Rody made the privatization proposal at the height of another scandal at the BoC involving the opening of balikbayan boxes, which as then ordered by Commissioner Bert Lina, resulted in theft of goods that overseas Filipino workers send home to their families.
Rody said the BoC and BIR have become “bloated government agencies that could no longer totally supervise and control the actions of its officials and employees.”
He added that privatizing the BoC will eliminate political interference in its operations and free it from the image of being a “fund-raising” agency for the political party in power during election seasons.
Privatizing the BoC, BIR and GSIS will provide greater transparency, accountability and efficiency, Duterte said.
“Targets and standards should be set for firms involved in the operations of Customs, tax collection and government insurance. If they don’t meet the target, they won’t make money,” Rody said.
The abolition of the BoC and the BIR and farming its services to private groups is the most radical of all solutions but is a solution that may be called for considering the extent of the problem of corruption in government.

Decontamination process

Thursday, 17 August 2017 00:00 Published in Editorial

It appears that the barangay polls slated this October would not pull through and instead will be moved sometime in May next year simultaneous with the targeted plebiscite for Charter change and the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
The deferment of the polls was based on the desire of Rody to first weed out officials involved in narcotics before the polls are held, saying drug money continues to flow and is expected to affect the outcome of the elections.
He earlier signed a law postponing the elections from October 2016 to this October.
Rody earlier said that he will seek the appointment of barangay officials but such a move, legislators warned, may violate the Constitution.
Duterte said 40 percent of all barangay captains are involved in illegal drugs.
Now the effort of Rody’s supporters turned to another postponement of the polls for next year.  They said this will give the administration enough time to cleanse drug-infested barangays and remove the narco-barangay officials.
Senate President Koko Pimentel said the Local Government’s Code if not the Constitution will have to be amended to allow the appointment of barangay officials.
A good suggestion floated was for Congress to pass a law to postpone the October elections and for  Rody to name officers-in-charge for the country’s 42,036 barangays.
Barangay officials are considered to be the lowest grassroots unit officials and are thus the first in government to interact with the community. The drug-free nation that Rody is aspiring for can only be achieved through the cleansing of the barangays.
In the narco-list that Rody frequently brandishes during his speaking engagements, most of the names are those of barangay officials who the President said he will surely make accountable.
The main problem is the flow of drug money that makes officials the protectors of the illicit trade and makes the business of eradicating the drug trade more difficult.
Barangay officials are likely to stay until next year which could have been the reason for the Liga ng mga Barangay sa Pilipinas (LnB) to support the polls postponement.
The LnB submitted a position paper submitted to the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms in which it indicated its support for the administration’s campaign to cleanse drug-infested barangays and remove barangay officials linked to drugs.
The last time the barangay elections were held was in 2013 which makes barangay officials serving already beyond their term for a year.
The barangay officials have always been targets for influence for both criminal and political purposes.
In the last polls, the Liberal Party promised millions of pesos for each barangay under the so-called Bottom Up Budgeting (BUB) scheme if Noynoy’s anointed Mar Roxas would win the presidency.
The opposition party branded the BUB as the Buy Ur Barangay scheme due to the apparent political patronage it promotes.
The recent revelations of Rody on most barangay officials acting as agents of drug lords further fanned perceptions that the communities are even in danger from their elected officials.
Voting 19-2, the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms approved recently the proposal to postpone the October 2017 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections to the second Monday of May 2018.
The Senate is now deliberating on a similar bill Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III filed.
Sotto said the bill was in “answer to the appeal of President Duterte.”
The postponement of the barangay polls is nothing new, however, as it has been done for several occasions in the past.
What appears new, is that this time around, the postponement serves a valuable purpose in separating the chaff from the grain.


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