There's Something Amiss in the LTFRB

There's something going on in the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) right now that the general public doesn't know about, and that is there's some trouble brewing within the agency's three-person membership.

The first sign of discord surfaced on June 28 when LTRFB board member Atty. Aileen Lizada advised the media that, when cited in a report, her official designation is I-ACT Spokesperson "as (the) LTFRB is part of I-ACT." I-ACT is the Inter-Agency Council for Traffic which, besides the LTFRB, counts as its members the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Land Transportation Office (LTO), and the Philippine National Police's Highway Patrol Group (PNP-HPG).

Previously, on top of being a board member of the LTFRB, Lizada was also the agency's spokesperson until she resigned from the post on January 19, ostensibly to concentrate on her role within I-ACT. Despite no longer being the LTFRB's spokesperson though, Lizada continued to be the board's most vocal, if not most visible, member. Why the need to distance herself from the LTFRB despite being one of its members certainly piqued the interest of some parties.

The second sign of trouble surfaced on July 6 when Lizada deflected all queries by the media regarding the PHP1 provisional jeepney fare hike to be directed to LTFRB Chairman Martin Delgra. This was reinforced when the docketed copy of the provisional order approving the hike--minus the signature of Lizada--was released to the media. Asked if she had a dissenting opinion to the order, Lizada chose to remain silent.

As the saying goes, third time's the charm because on July 9, when the LTFRB released its order to fine Grab Philippines PHP10 million as penalty for imposing a PHP2-per-minute travel charge to its riders without the agency's consent, Lizada once again advised the media to contact Delgra instead for their needed soundbites. This time around though, Lizada said that she signed the order in protest, with the comment, "I dissent. See separate opinion."

In it, Lizada noted that the per-minute charge was imposed before the Department of Transportation (DOTr) issued Department Order No. 2017-011 or the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines for Public Utility Vehicles on June 19, 2017, which authorizes the LTFRB to determine the fare structure of transportation network vehicle services (TNVS).

"Facts would show that the basis of the respondent in prescribing the per-minute charge was Department Order No. 2015-011," Lizada cited. "Additionally, the assailed PHP2-per-minute charge was communicated to the Board, through the Office of the Chairman. Emphasis is made that the PHP2 per-minute charge was set when Department Order No. 2015-011 was not yet amended."

"Thus, in the imposition of any administrative sanction, the Board must only do the same after the effectivity of Department Order No. 2017-011. Said issuance should be applied prospectively and not retroactively. However, if after thorough evaluation and investigation, respondent will still impose the per-minute charge after the effectivity of the said Department Order, then and only then can the Board impose the appropriate penalty. Simply stated, penalties should be imposed upon effectivity of the regulatory policy," stressed Lizada.

The LTFRB though remains firm on imposing the fine on Grab Philippines, with Delgra acknowledging Lizada's dissenting opinion and subsequently disregarding it.

"We will stick on the majority rule na may paglabag doon sa pag-impose nila ng PHP2-per minute (that there was a violation when they imposed the PHP2-per minute)," Delgra told the media.

The "majority rules" may be a quasi-democratic way to settle matters but if a government agency like the LTFRB can't agree on one thing, then where does that leave the public? While the case between Grab Philippines and the LTFRB seems to be clear-cut, it doesn't seem to be so within the LTFRB. And what of transport network companies (TNC) like Grab and the others that entered the market recently? Other players may opt to quit before things get worse. After all, it's the government's heavy-handed way of handling TNCs and transport network vehicle  services (TNVS) that has helped force Uber out of business, at least locally, and made other international ride-hailing services like Go-Jek question the viability of operating in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, us, the riding public, is forced to wait in anticipation as to what the LTFRB's next moves are. Could the jeepney fare go up by another PHP1? We'll just have to wait and see.