BY MARLEN V. RONQUILLO
Because the discussion of public issues are not often framed well (the context is often lost), the efforts to put in order the land transport sector in the metropolis and the rest of Luzon are anchored on the usual knee-jerk thing: impounding buses, both metro and provincial, with the usual impunity. Confiscating licenses to cripple bus operators. The brutal hand of the state as policy.
To juice up media interest (the footage-rich orgies of impounding by the MMDA and other law-enforcement agencies), there is this complementary move to cast the bus operators as villains. Either they are operators of colorum buses. Or, operators of rolling coffins. As per stereotype, bus operators are more evil and sinister than loan sharks and illegal recruiters.
How the bus industry has allowed itself to be portrayed below loan sharks and illegal recruiters in public esteem is something that cannot be fathomed. It is an industry that requires real investments, the capital-heavy build-up of buses and terminals and service shops, and the fulfillment of several layers of regulatory requirements. The bus industry, based on the capital and effort required to make individual companies viable, is one of the toughest and most challenging businesses to be in.
Yet, the public perception is that it is a fly-by-night thing. And law enforcers often take liberty with their regulatory mandates to impound buses, seize the licenses of bus drivers and harass the industry with abandon and impunity because of this. Indeed, these villains should be put in place and reined in.
Why this is happening is beyond the people in the know. Is it because DOTC Secretary Jose de Jesus, who is presently pre-occupied with the PAL issue, cannot give his full attention to this? Kong Ping is by reputation one of the most fair and one of the most capable cabinet members of the new administration.
And because of Kong Ping’s reputation and professional history, the virtual take over by the MMDA traffic enforcers of the heart and the core of transport regulation is a big mystery. Ninety-nine (99) percent of all MMDA traffic enforcers do not know what is the difference between out-of-line and colorum (illegal) operators. Ninety-nine (99) percent of all MMDA traffic enforcers cannot read the fine print of LTFRB franchises. Ninety-nine (99) per cent of all MMDA enforcers do not know the meaning of flexibility rule and variations of it.
Why is Kong Ping allowing the MMDA to run amuck? Why has Kong Ping allowed traffic enforcers to run transport policies?
This question is more perplexing because there is a virtual template on how to deal with the land transport industry. This is called the Cory Model, or how the late President Cory Aquino dealt with the land transport sector.
The Cory policy went like this. She asked the transport authorities to study the overall transport environment. Then she based her policy on three things: modernization, expansion and incentives.
The current DOTC leadership should also be informed on what President Cory threw out of the window in determining her land transport policies: No to excessive regulations.
Policy, she declared, should be about the opening up of opportunities, not using the heavy hand of regulation to choke the bus industry to death.
The year 1988, till the time President Cory left Malacañang, are now considered the “golden years” of land transport. Franchises and lines were opened up. Bus assemblers got orders in unprecedented volumes.
And the BIPP, with its balanced mix of incentives and guaranteed financing for bus operators, resulted in modernizing the bus industry at an impossible level. The public benefit from the transport policies of the Cory years were immense.
We can still recall that a young congressman with creative ideas and frontier legislative initiatives was asked by then President Cory to move from the House to become DOTC secretary. Oca Orbos of Pangasinan, who President Cory “borrowed” from the House, oversaw the BIPP program and reforms dramatic modernization programs for the land transport sector.
It is not the Cory Model that we are seeing right now. It is MMDA traffic enforcers taking over the front, back and center of the land transport policies. It is the brutal hand of regulation, not the liberating programs of modernization and expansion, that has taken over land transport policies.
Kong Ping should act before it is too late. While impounding of buses and seizures of the licenses of bus drivers make for good television news, it is not the right policy.
Transport operators are performing a public service function. Buses are the backbone of the mass transport system.
Kong Ping, in crafting and framing transport policies, can go back to a model, that, while not providing good footage for prime time news, superbly took care of public welfare and private growth. This is the Cory Model and this is where the land transport policies of the second Aquino administration should be drawn from.