Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte has pressed the Departments of Transportation (DOTr) and of Budget and Management (DBM) to work in tandem in scouring for fresh funds to keep the Libreng Sakay program going, especially after President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. himself ordered on his first day in office the continuation of this free ride project up to at least the end of the year.
“Carrying on with Libreng Sakay should top the concerns of both the DOTr and DBM, considering that one of the very first official acts of Mr. Marcos on his first full day as President last July 1 was for the DOTr to carry on with this program for the benefit of Metro Manila commuters,” Villafuerte said.
“Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista should exert his very best effort in making sure Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman is able to source or realign at least P1.4 billion in public funds to bankroll Libreng Sakay till the yearend, in keeping with President Marcos’ July 1 directive,” Villafuerte said.
“This is the very least that the new Administration can do for poor and low-income commuters in the NCR (National Capital Region) at this time of a global oil shock that has jacked up headline inflation and prompted the government to increase public transport fares,” Villafuerte added.
Villafuerte issued this statement after Bautista revealed that the DOTr will seek an additional outlay of P1.4 billion as the agency has no available funds in its 2022 budget to continue with Libreng Sakay till end-December.
President Marcos approved last July 1 the recommendation of 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 schoolyear 2022-2023 from August 22 to November 4.
President Marcos approved last July 1 the recommendation of 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 schoolyear 2022-2023 from August 22 to November 4.
Bautista, who had proposed the extension of the free rides in a memorandum—and which President Marcos promptly approved—was quoted as saying in a “Laging Handa” press briefing at the Palace this week that: “We will ask for additional budget from the DBM.”
The DOTr secretary reportedly said: “The Libreng Sakay program demands certain funding. If we want to implement the free bus rides until December, we will need additional funding of around P1.4 billion, which is not available in our existing budget.”
Villafuerte also appealed to the government to speed up the release of the approved P1,000 fuel subsidy for the over 600,000 qualified tricycle driver-beneficiaries of this cash aid as listed by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
The Camarines Sur legislator at the same time renewed his appeal for the DOTr to include senior citizens, persons with disability (PWDs), and solo parents among the beneficiaries of the free rides at the MRT, LRT, and PNR; and for the 19th Congress to write a 2023 General Appropriations Act (GAA) that will include a budget sufficient enough for the government to carry on with Libreng Sakay till next year at least.
He likewise proposed to the DOTr and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to streamline and simplify the validation process to make it easy for beneficiary students to avail of such free rides at the MRT, LRT, and PNR.
Villafuerte earlier extolled President Marcos for implementing among his very first acts the continuation of Libreng Sakay in the NCR to help ease the economic woes of commuters 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 have been hit the hardest by the economic crisis 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 appealed last June to Mr. Marcos to extend Libreng Sakay once he assumes the presidency, described the Chief Executive’s extension of the free rides project as 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.”
According to the LTFRB, Libreng Sakay was part of the third phase of the government’s service contracting program that ended on June 30.
The first phase of the program was launched in November 2020 as authorized by the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or the Bayanihan 2 law, a stimulus package designed partly to help the economy recover quickly from the pandemic.
Villafuerte was the lead author in the House of Republic Act (RA) No. 11494 (Bayanihan 2 law) as well as RA 11469 or the Bayanihan 1 law.
The then-Duterte administration had reportedly channeled P5.58 billion for Libreng Sakay’s first phase, which ran until September 2021. The second phase was funded by a P3-billion outlay from the 2021 GAA, while the third phase got a P7 billion allocation from the 2022 GAA.
“Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista should exert his very best effort in making sure Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman is able to source or realign at least P1.4 billion in public funds to bankroll Libreng Sakay till the yearend, in keeping with President Marcos’ July 1 directive.”
Libreng Sakay had enabled NCR commuters to avail of over 203 million free rides, said the LTFRB in a statement.
The LTFRB claimed that more than 65,000 public utility vehicles (PUVs) servicing over 4,400 routes combined have participated in the free-ride service contracting process, in which some 2,000 operators of PUV groups, including cooperatives and corporations, were paid a guaranteed amount to ply their routes without charging fares from passengers.
The LTFRB previously said it spent at least P14 million a day to pay for the contracted PUVs that catered to the NCR 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 serviced by the participating PUVs exhausted the funds for the project.
Villafuerte called on the 19th Congress “to weigh up the approval of a higher public transport budget in the 2023 GAA and subsequent GAAs so the Marcos administration could continue Libreng Sakay next year and onwards.”
Citing Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data, he said that ever-rising fuel prices had driven the June 2022 inflation rate to soar to a three-year high of 6.1%.
The faster 6.1% pace of upward price adjustments last month was higher than May 2022’s rate of 5.4% and June 2021’s 3.7%.
Villafuerte, citing PSA data, pointed out that transportation costs went up from 14.6% last May to 17.1% in June.