For The Greatest Good
BY EDWIN ALLAN C. DIAZ
LTFRB CHAIRPERSON TEOFILO GUADIZ III IS NOT STEPPING ON THE BRAKES UNTIL
ALL FILIPINOS ENJOY WORLD-CLASS PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION.
Metro Manila placed 58th out of 60 cities around the world with the worst public transport system in the 2022 Urban Mobility Readiness Index. The metropolis’ nearlast ranking was due to its poor quality of roads and limited regional connectivity, says the study’s authors from the Oliver Wyman Forum in partnership with the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley).
According to the report, a low level of car ownership would solve this problem. Manila also has huge potential to improve once it increases commute speed, lessens wait times, adds public utility vehicle stations, and makes public transportation more affordable.Furthermore, the index determines a city’s “preparedness for mobility’s next chapter.”
In the Philippines, it’s the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP). Issued in 2017 under Department Order (D.O.) No. 2017- 011, the PUVMP, also known as the “Omnibus Guidelines on the Planning and Identification of Public Road Transportation Services and Franchise Issuance or the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines (OFG),” implements certain standards to modernize the Philippine jeepney. These include equipping jeeps with a global positioning system (GPS), automated fare collection system, and a closed-circuit television camera (CCTV). They should also run on at least Euro-4 fuel and comply with Philippine National Standards (PNS). They can also be powered by liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), electricity, or a hybrid system.
Under the PUVMP, jeepneys that are more than 15 years old can no longer operate or be registered with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).
Its chairperson, Teofilo “Jojo” Guadiz III, tells LEAGUE that LTFRB has to “cater to the needs of the times.” He admits the government’s program has nothing but good intentions for the country, which unfortunately may not be ready for this transition.
However, Guadiz has been preparing to drive the Philippines’ public transport sector to new heights.
Guadiz has encountered the word ‘distinguish’ all his life.
His mother nicknamed him “Jojo”; “Your father is already ‘Junior’, so how do I distinguish you from your dad or your grandfather?” she asked Guadiz.
Then while he was taking up law, his father told him, “Ang daming abogado sa mundong ito (The world has plenty of lawyers). If you’re just a regular lawyer, you may not be sellable. Why don’t you take a specialized course?” Guadiz followed his father’s advice. After practicing law for two years in his hometown of Pangasinan, the San Beda University (SBU) Manila College of Law alumnus took up a Master of Law in International Law and Legal Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Specializing in banking law, Guadiz was hired by Premiere Development Bank (acquired by Security Bank in 2011) before transferring to Planters Development Bank (merged with China Bank Savings, Inc. in 2016).
Little did he know that his efforts of distinguishing himself would allow him to better identify the problems surrounding public transportation.
“At Planters Bank, I remember that I used to evaluate the loan applications of bus companies. Alam ko kaagad kung ilang taon return on investment (ROI) niyan kapag ni-release na namin ‘yung loan (I would immediately know how many years it would take to ROI after disbursing the loan),” Guadiz says.
He adds, “Will this lead to the benefit of the greatest number?”
I envision a time like in first-world countries na ‘paglabas mo, tatawag ka, may available na sasakyan kaagad sa murang halaga.
In 2020, the Philippines had a total population of 109 million with an annual growth rate of 1.63 percent, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). Based on the annual growth rate, the country’s total population rate would reach 114 million this 2023.
In his 2018 paper “Public Transport Rationalization as a Means to Sustainability,” Dr. Cresencio Montalbo, Jr. says that 8.9 million Filipinos ride jeepneys while 1.87 million take the bus. This is 9.7 percent of the total population—the people Guadiz swears to protect the most.
“Your role here is more on being like a father to the road sector. You attend to their needs and see to it that they are competitive. You cannot rule LTFRB with an iron hand. Ang masasaktan ‘yung mga mananakay mismo (The riding public will truly suffer). You have to attend to what they really want, their goals,” says Guadiz.
To ensure public transportation is competitive, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) allocated Php1.3 billion to the LTFRB for the “Libreng Sakay” program, which Guadiz says is a far cry from the originally proposed amount.
Guadiz says, “Initially, [DBM] had Php8 billion and we made EDSA [Bus Carousel] as our showcase. Libreng sakay ‘yan, ikot nang ikot ‘yung bus, mayroon man sakay o wala, bayad ‘yan eh (The buses would continuously ply the EDSA route, whether they have passengers or not, because their services have already been paid).”
He adds, “Now they gave us only Php1.3 billion, and the jeepneys and owners of shuttle buses are also requesting a piece of the cake, saying ’Bakit, EDSA buses lang ba ang may karapatan (Are the operators of buses using Epifanio de los Santos Avenue [EDSA] the only ones entitled to assistance from the government)? We’re also taxpayers.’”
To appease everyone, LTFRB decided to implement a discount system. “We will foot the difference of Php9 and Php12, but not in all instances,” Guadiz says. It will only cover jeeps registered with the LTFRB and their local government unit (LGU), with 158,000 traditional jeepneys still plying the road.
“So how do you do this? For now, a discount system because the government’s money is not enough. But even in small ways, the effects can still be felt. ‘Yung pa-kaunti-kaunting (The small but frequent) discounts every day that a minimum wage earner gets, if you add it all up, malaking bagay din ‘yan (that is huge for them),” he adds.
Guadiz is worried about how they would be able to produce the Php1.3 billion, having come out of the pandemic. So they just have to be skillful enough in making the most out of it, he says.
“They have associations, so not all will receive because we want to prevent accidentally giving colorum vehicles subsidy.” He estimates the budget would last for nine months before running out, having released Php1,000 worth of fuel subsidies for tricycle drivers last December.
Initially, he thought he would still clash with local jeepney leaders, with whom he had differences when he was still the chief of the Land Transportation Office (LTO). But that was not the case as it proved to be his most heartwarming moment in public service.
“When I came here, I thought it was the same thing that we would fight, but they said, ‘Thank you for your brand of leadership. We will support you all the way,’” tells Guadiz.
He is also confident that he has the support of the entire Department of Transportation (DOTr), led by Secretary Jaime Bautista. “The good thing there is, there are always solutions that he tries to offer, and would always find the time to listen to his department heads,” he says. Even if there are no problems, he would drop by the transportation secretary’s office once a week to share updates about LTFRB.
He cites an example of gasoline prices increasing by Php2 per liter. “[Secretary Bautista] immediately calls DBM and asks, ‘When is the release of funds for the fuel subsidy?,’” shares Guadiz, adding that the money was disbursed the week after.
TOUGH ROAD AS HEAD
“Libreng Sakay” is not the only concern of the LTFRB.
The LTFRB has been apprehending drivers of two illegal Russian ride-hailing apps in the Philippines: InDrive and Maxim. Posing as passengers, LTFRB staff would book a ride through their apps and then arrest them with the help of the Highway Patrol Group (HPG). They have also sought the assistance of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to ban the apps in the Philippines.
Both InDrive and Maxim do not have offices in the country, nor are they registered/affiliated with any local government agency.
“Unlike legitimate transport network vehicle service (TNVS) companies, there is no fixed price. The driver and the passenger will haggle over fare prices. There’s no assurance because you don’t know the driver, it’s not registered in the LTFRB. [Baka] kung saan-saan ka dalhin ng driver, wala kaming control (The driver might bring you somewhere else, we have no control over this),” Guadiz says.
LTFRB follows its mandate of “ensuring safe, comfortable, and reliable transportation to Filipinos through the implementation of its rules and regulations and the conduct of transparent and accountable service to the public.”
With only three percent, or 5,300 jeepneys, nationwide equipped with air conditioning and CCTVs, PUVMP—and the LTFRB—still have a long way to go. But this does not stop LTFRB from pushing for an electric future, for which Guadiz is all in.
“We give priority to electric buses. In fact, if you have an electric bus, you are assured of a franchise, it is our way to entice them to get on with the program,” Guadiz says, claiming they also give a 30-percent tax deduction for electric buses. They are slowly phasing out traditional jeepneys in favor of Euro-4- and electric-powered PUVs because they have less to zero carbon emissions, which is a win for the environment. This is Guadiz’s biggest challenge in LTFRB.
“On the one hand, it’s good for the environment and it’s also convenient for the riding public. But on the other hand, not everybody can afford a modernized jeepney, which costs about Php2 million. This has displaced so many drivers,” Guadiz says.
To modernize the process of giving franchises, Guadiz is inviting information technology (IT) companies to bid with the LTFRB. This will speed up awarding and eliminate red tape.
“Sometimes, it takes two years before you’re given a franchise. Sometimes, it’s even plagued with allegations of impropriety, that some are charging beyond what’s prescribed by law. If we shorten the application process to one month and make it online, the processing will be faster. There will be less corruption. Why? No human intervention, everything’s on the internet only.”
Guadiz says upon his appointment in December, he discovered that everything in LTFRB has a price. “When people apply, sometimes there’s extra-legal payment because there is human intervention. Processing, you pay ‘extra.’ When you ask for a franchise, another ‘extra,’” he laments, adding that the people suffer because of corruption, which will become nonexistent when everything is online.
NO JUAN LEFT BEHIND
With drivers only taking home Php300 to Php 400 per day, says Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON) National President Mody Floranda, it would be difficult to prioritize modernizing their jeepney. He says they were earning Php400 to Php500 per day before the series of oil price hikes in January due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
A family of five needs a daily wage of Php1,160 or Php25,226 monthly to live a decent life in Metro Manila, says Ibon Foundation.
“For me, it’s not enough that you have modern jeepneys. It’s also necessary that
the displaced drivers should be given alternative livelihoods. Everyone should live a decent life, not just the [owners of] modern buses,” Guadiz stresses.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), DOTr, and LTFRB launched the “enTSUPERneur” program in 2022 (a portmanteau of tsuper or driver, and entrepreneur) in Quezon City. It aims to provide alternative sources of income to drivers affected by COVID-19 and the PUVMP. They gave livelihood projects, such as food carts and cellphone loading businesses, to 178 displaced drivers and operators. Another 252 drivers and operators received 24 sacks of rice last December 2022 in Marikina City.
Also under enTSUPERneur, LTFRB partnered with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to provide alternative livelihoods to displaced drivers. In Pangasinan, LTFRB is offering TESDA skills training, with livelihood assistance from DOLE of up to Php30,000.
DOTr is also looking for ways to improve passenger access to the EDSA Bus Carousel. To access its stations, pedestrians must use the existing footbridges along EDSA from the curb to the inner busway. With its own lane, it becomes a more convenient and safer option for passengers to ride public transportation in the metro.
However, the carousel is not convenient for all. Senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs) may not be able to climb footbridges. Sometimes the elevators are not in order, making it nearly impossible to access the carousel, which Guadiz acknowledges.
“The DOTr is looking into ways of improving it. The problem is the connectivity from the buses to Metro Rail Transit (MRT)/Light Rail Transit (LRT) stations. For now, the government is still finding ways to address that issue,” says Guadiz.
Guadiz did not waste any time upon his appointment as LTFRB’s new chairperson,
with nothing but high hopes for the future of Philippine public transportation.
“The bigger ambition here is to address the transport breakdown. There may be
times when public transportation is not available. [So] what do you do? You’ll resort to colorum [vehicles], walk, or wait for a long period of time,” Guadiz says.
The chairperson is already working on it. Guadiz tells LEAGUE during the interview that he is scheduled to meet with a major transit company that operates primarily in the Visayas and Mindanao afterward. “Right now, I have Vallacar Transit, Inc. coming over. This is the biggest transport [company] in the Philippines. They have 4,000 buses, and it’s my first time meeting them to discuss the issues affecting the industry.”
Monday is his most hectic day of the week. He reviews LTFRB’s existing policies, browses current, non-appealed cases, and receives visitors. Then he stays in the office until 10 pm, saying the only time he can “ponder on the issues, to write the memos, would be afternoon until the evening.” This is when he can evaluate all the issues and write down policies.
All of the work Guadiz is putting in is to make his vision of seamless public transportation in the Philippines a reality. “I envision a time like in first-world countries that after you go out, you’ll call for public transportation, and a vehicle would be immediately available at a low price,” he says.
Guadiz cites the duty of the State: to provide continuous public transport at a cheap price, just like the recommendation of the 2022 Urban Mobility Index. This is a must “in the suburbs where there is commerce,” he adds, confident that LTFRB can achieve such a feat in Metro Manila.
By creating programs that benefit every Filipino, Guadiz says LTFRB is engendered closer to the people. “What are the things that affect passengers? Affordable fares. For drivers, cheap fuel and subsidies. To those displaced because they can’t drive their jeepney: alternative livelihoods.”
You cannot rule LTFRB with an iron hand. Ang masasaktan ‘yung mga mananakay mismo.
“You should consider always the greatest benefit that the people will get using the transport sector of the country,” Guadiz says.