House Ways and Means Chair Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda has called for the lifting of the provincial bus ban and allow people to move under and within optimum health protocols and standards, to help the economy recover faster from the effects of the COVID pandemic.
At the same time, Salceda warned against ‘opportunistic predilections among transport operators, most particularly in charging transport fares, stressing that “this is the worst time to step on other people to gain undue advantage over them.”
“As long as we can maintain minimum health standards, we should allow people to move. A rational system of public transport takes human needs and realities into account. These are the realities: One, local government units are already transporting citizens to and from Manila. Two, some bus lines are already operating. Three, we have already allowed people to go to work in most places,” he pointed out.
Salceda said continuing the provincial bus bans, at this point, would have very little value as far as preventing infections is concerned, and merely imposes greater damage to people who need to go to work.”
“Until transport can be made operational, the economy will not fully recover. People are the driving force of the economy, and if people find it hard to move, the economy will likewise find it hard to get going,” he said. “For the stimulus plans to work, you need people to create value,” added Salceda, who also principally authored the House stimulus plan.
“If they’re stuck in the provinces or in Manila, away from where they usually create value, the stimulus will face serious roadblocks,” he said and issued a warning against “probable opportunistic behavior among some members of the transport sector relative to fares, when provincial buses are finally allowed to resume their routes.
“This is a crisis. I expect people in the regulatory and business sectors to help make things easier for the people, not harder. If there are issues on fares pricing because I understand that due to social distancing, the supply of seats will be reduced, we should talk it out with the regulators. Perhaps we could come up with some government programs that would allow provincial buses to operate at reasonable profit margins without compromising safety and health standards. It has to be negotiated, however, at the proper forum. Any attempt at price gouging should be monitored.” Salceda emphasized.
“My office is backed by a coalition of transport advocates and stakeholders, so if there is unfair activity on the ground, we will know, and we will act upon them.” he added.
The lawmaker also cautioned certain sectors against imposing regulations that unduly burden ordinary commuters. “There were attempts in the past to ban provincial passengers from EDSA and to channel all passenger traffic in Parañaque. Don’t do it in the middle of this crisis, when even going to Parañaque will prove to be a problem. Now is not the time. Don’t even think about it,” he stressed.
Salceda said that his office is working with transport advocates in designing systems such as service contracting that will make transport more efficient. “COVID-19 has forced us to look at transport the right way: It has to be a system whose primary purpose is the comfort and convenience of commuters. We do not build transport systems so that private cars can have smoother trips. We build transport systems so that Filipino commuters and workers can go from home to work and back with well-deserved ease, earn a decent living, and create value for himself, his family, and his country. I will strongly object to any regulation, scheme or move that goes against that essential purpose,” he assured.
Salceda, the House tax panel chair and the chamber’s resident economist, is also a public transport advocate. He has crafted a good number of tax and economic proposals to build more transport facilities and provide more equitable funding for jeepney drivers and other basic sectors in the transport industry.