LRay appeals to DOTr to resume ‘Libreng Sakay’ swiftly

January 16, 2023 Ryan Ponce Pacpaco 168 views

CAMARINES Sur Representative and National Unity Party (NUP) president LRay Villafuerte has appealed to the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to work closely with the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on the early restart of the “Libreng Sakay” or free bus ride program along Metro Manila’s main thoroughfare EDSA, to provide another financial relief to commuters in the national capital grappling with the ever-increasing cost of living.

Villafuerte said, “The DOTr must see to it that the LTFRB (Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) fast-tracks the documentation process, including the contract-signing with the two bus consortiums – ES Transport & Partners Consortium and Mega Manila Consortium Corp. – participating in Libreng Sakay, so this project on free bus rides can be restarted soon enough for the benefit of ordinary commuters in Metro Manila.”

The former Camarines Sur governor made this call after DBM Secretary Amenah Pangandaman confirmed recently that there is a P1.285-billion budget in the 2023 General Appropriations Act (GAA) for the DOTr’s SCP (Service Contracting Program) for Libreng Sakay, which had, till end-December 2022, provided free bus rides on the EDSA Carousel route from MCU (Manila Central University) in Caloocan City to PITX (Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange) in Parañaque City.

Moreover, Villafuerte asked DOTr Sec. Jaime Bautista to “lobby Malacañan Palace or DBM to provide a supplemental budget for SCP so the DOTr, through the LTFRB, can carry out Libreng Sakay till end-December this year, given estimates by transport officials that the available outlay funder the 2023 national budget is enough only to provide free bus rides along EDSA for six months.”

“With the rate of commodity price hikes in December rising at its fastest in 14 years, it is incumbent upon the DOTr to work closely with the DBM on speeding up the paperwork needed to restart Libreng Sakay as well as the release of the 2023 funds intended for SCP, so the government can continue offering free bus rides in Metro Manila, more so with the elevated, mostly imported, inflation, hounding our people into the new year,” Villafuerte said.

Pangandaman said, “May pondo po ang Service Contracting Program sa ating FY (Fiscal Year) 2023 GAA. Naglaan po ang pamahalaan ng P1.285 billion para maipagpatuloy ang programang ito ngayong taon… Malaking tulong po ang tipid-pasahe sa araw-araw na pamumuhay ng mga kababayan natin. Whatever amount they save daily, they can reallocate to equally or more important needs such as budget for food, electricity, tuition fee, among others.”

Sought for details, DBM spokesperson and Undersecretary Goddess Libiran said it was up to the DOTr, as the implementing agency, “to identify the scope/coverage of the program. They have the option to spread or limit its coverage, based on the result of their study.”

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), inflation soared to a 14-year record of 8.1% last December, the highest since the 9.1% clip in 2008 – the year of the global financial crisis – and the ninth consecutive month in 2022 that the pace of commodity price hikes breached the target range of 2% to 4% set by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

PSA data showed the continued inflation spike last month resulted from the higher price index for electricity, vegetables, restaurant services, and private and public transport.

Villafuerte’s appeal for the early resumption of Libreng Sakay came a week after he lauded President Marcos Jr. for providing immediate financial relief to Filipino consumers at the start of 2023 with his twin directives meant to hold off scheduled increases this 2023 in the cost of certain basic monthly expenses.

These are: (1) Executive Order (EO) 10 extending till end-December the reduced import duties on rice, corn, pork (whether fresh, chilled or frozen), and coal; and (2) a Palace memorandum signed by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin suspending the scheduled increase this year in the monthly premium contributions of Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) members.

“We commend the President and his economic team for providing instant financial relief at the onset of 2023 to Filipino consumers continuously reeling from the mostly imported elevated inflation, with the twin directives designed to keep at bay the impending price spirals in basic foodstuff like rice, corn and pork and the scheduled rate adjustment in the monthly premiums of PhilHealth members,” Villafuerte said.

“Such pro-poor, pro-consumer presidential directives illustrate anew that Mr. Marcos’ heart is in the right place,” he said. “More importantly, most of our people are apparently aware of, and truly appreciate, his good intentions, as reflected in the increasing number of public opinion polls pointing to the President’s high trust and approval ratings.”

As regards Libreng Sakay, Villafuerte said, “It behooves the DOTr, LTFRB, and DBM to find ways to resume the free bus rides ASAP (as soon as possible) – and to scour for funds to extend this pro-poor program till the end of 2023 at the least – considering that NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority) director-general and concurrent Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said earlier that protecting the purchasing power of Filipinos remained on top of the Marcos administration’s priorities as domestic and global headwinds continue to be a challenge.