Villafuerte hails PBBM for extending ‘Libreng Sakay’

July 2, 2022 Ryan Ponce Pacpaco 109 views

CAMARINES Sur Representative LRay Villafuerte has extolled President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Romualdez Marcos Jr. over the weekend for implementing among his very “first” acts as the country’s 17th Chief Executive for extending the “Libreng Sakay” (Free Ride) transport program in the metropolis to help ease the economic woes of commuters, especially students and their parents, saddled with ever-rising fuel prices and the newly approved fare hike.

“President BBM’s move to greenlight on ‘Day One’ of his presidency the extension of the Libreng Sakay program is a harbinger of the better days ahead on his watch for our people, particularly the ‘masa’ who the economic crisis has hit the hardest touched off by the over two-year COVID-19 pandemic plus the oil price shock, food supply squeeze and other ill effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Villafuerte said.

Villafuerte, who last week appealed to the then-incoming President Marcos to continue with Libreng Sakay once he assumes the presidency, said “this is an auspicious start for the new President who has won the biggest electoral mandate – over 31 million votes –in our country’s history. That the extension of the program giving ‘free rides’ to our commuters was among the very first acts of Mr. Marcos as President is a telling mark of his clear-cut desire to deliver on his ‘Bangon Bayan Muli’ presidential campaign promise to uplift the lives of all Filipinos.”

Villafuerte pointed out that the President’s action was truly “providential”, considering that the free ride program was extended on the same day that the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) approved a minimum fare increase to P11 for all public utility jeepneys (PUJs) nationwide and to P13 for modern PUJs, and just ahead of the start of face-to-face classes in schools this school year.

The Bicolano lawmaker issued the statement as the President approved last Friday the recommendation of Transportation Secretary-designate Jaime Bautista to extend the free rides program for buses plying the EDSA Carousel Busway until end-December, along with the free rides in the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3), Light Rail Transit 2 (LRT-2), and Philippine National Railways (PNR) for students, at least for the first quarter of the school year 2022-2023 from August 22 to November 4.

Villafuerte appealed to the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to consider including senior citizens, persons with disabilities (PWDs), and solo parents in the extended free ride program.

He also proposed to the DOTr and the LTFRB to streamline and simplify the validation process to make it easy for beneficiary commuters to avail themselves of such free rides.

Villafuerte likewise called on the incoming Congress “to weigh up the approval of a higher public transport budget in the 2023 GAA (General Appropriations Act) and subsequent GAAs so the Marcos administration could continue Libreng Sakay next year and onwards.”

This Libreng Sakay program of the previous Duterte administration was set to end last June 30.

On the eve of Libreng Sakay’s scheduled end last week, Villafuerte had appealed to Mr. Marcos to extend this program, saying “I hope that the new administration of BBM would be able to find ways of continuing to fund the Libreng Sakay program even at least until the end of the year. With transport costs now eating up a large share of the overall inflation rate in Metro Manila alone, such free rides would prove to be a big help in cushioning the impact of the fuel price shock on the commuting public.”

Villafuerte had pointed out that in May, inflation accelerated to 4.9%, owing largely to the transport index’s increase of 14.6%, while the food and non-alcoholic beverage index grew 4.9%.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), transport with an inflation rate rising to 13.8% in May 2022 from 12.3% in the previous month contributed mainly to the uptrend of inflation in the National Capital Region (NCR).

Villafuerte recalled that the LTFRB was given a P7 billion fund for the Libreng Sakay program from the national budget.

The LTFRB previously said it spent at least P14 million a day to pay for the contracted PUVs (public utility vehicles) that catered to the daily influx of passengers.

According to June reports quoting LTFRB Executive Director Ma. Kristina Cassion, Libreng Sakay was supposed to be extended until December 2022, but the sheer number of passengers catered by the participating PUVs “exhausted” the funds for the project.

Villafuerte was the principal author in the House in the 18th Congress of the Bayanihan to Heal as One (Bayanihan 1) and Bayanihan to Recover as One (Bayanihan 2) laws that provided, among others, for “ayuda” or subsidies for low-income families, displaced workers, public transport operators and drivers, and other sectors adversely affected by the global economic standstill resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

He earlier urged the then-incoming President Marcos to consider putting up a national strategic petroleum reserve (SPR) – a long-conceived government plan that has “sadly crawled at a snail’s pace” at the Department of Energy (DOE) – especially now when domestic pump prices of fuel are close to reaching the level of P100 per liter.

“Given the seemingly endless oil price spiral in the world market, one way for the BBM administration to stabilize the retail cost of petroleum products – and shield consumers and motorists from the debilitating effects of sky-high prices of gasoline and fuel – is to put up a state-run storage facility that would enable the government to bring in additional inventory that could help soften future price surges,” Villafuerte said.