Senator: Let train subsidy stay-A A +A
Saturday, September 10, 2011
SENATOR Ralph Recto on Friday defended billions in pesos spent to subsidize fares on Manila's light rail transit (LRT) and metro rail transit (MRT) lines, saying most of that money comes from Metro Manila anyway.
The government shoulders P40 of the actual cost of riding the trains while the estimated 500,000 passengers on the MRT every day only pay from P12 to P15.
Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas II has said that the government cannot afford to keep paying around P200 million a day in subsidies.
President Benigno Aquino III has also said that the rest of the country should not have to pay to keep Manila's commuters pay less.
But Recto said the subsidies should stay since those passengers pay lower fares on Manila's account.
“No one in Batanes, Batangas or in Capiz or Tarlac, or even in Tawi-tawi is subsidizing a rider in Metro Manila," he said on Friday.
He explained that the train subsidies, which cost around P7 billion a year, are paid for with taxes from the National Capital Region.
He said "a bulk" of the P1.5 trillion in programmed tax revenues on the 2012 budget will come from NCR and the rest of Luzon.
Recto said that combined tax collections "from Bicol province down to Tawi-Tawi" only total P56.82 billion. In contrast, Quezon City alone contributes P75.8 billion in taxes.
He added that P281.8 billion of P337 billion collected from 19 revenue regions in 2010 came from Quezon City, Makati, Manila, and Caloocan -- all component cities of Metro Manila.
“And remember the LTS -- Large Taxpayer Section -- which collected P457 billion in 2010 is NCR-based and a great chunk of this is attributable to income generated in Metro Manila,” Recto said.
He added that Manila's taxes are also subsidizing the government's conditional cash transfer (CCT) program.
The CCT program, with a proposed budget of P39.4 billion, is meant to give families in poor areas incentives to bring their children to school and to health centers.
In June, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman said most of the 1.6 million households that the CCT program is helping are in Mindanao, where poverty incidence is higher.
Although most taxes come from Manila, that does not mean that only pesos from Manila are spent on the train subsidies.
The subsidies, being line items under the Department of Transportation and Communications budget are sourced from the Treasury bureau. A source familiar with the budget process said taxes from Manila are not earmarked for the train subsidies.
"It's in the GAA (General Appropriations Act, national budget) and the GAA is funded by all taxes, from Manila and other regions," the source told Sun.Star.
Senator Sergio Osmena III said higher tax collections from Manila do not justify subsidies to its trains.
He said despite that, the country's revenue must be expanded to cut down on the national deficit. He said failing to do so will "affect the delivery of basic services to the rural areas."
"The Filipino cannot enjoy first-world infrastructure if he is willing to pay only third-world fees," Osmena told Sun.Star in a text message.
Recto also defended the subsidies by saying "people in the provinces are not actually complaining or up in arms over their supposed subsidy of MRT-LRT riders in Metro Manila."
Recto, who ran and won in the 2010 elections, said that when he was campaigning in the provinces, nobody complained to him about the subsidies.
That may not be true for long, however.
West Samar Mel Senen Sarmiento expressed support Friday for cutting the subsidies to commuters on the MRT and LRT.
"How many people are really benefiting from the MRT? People in the provinces ride on jeepneys, tricycle, habal-habal, or pump boats without being subsidized by the national government. Manila is not the Philippines,” he said.
He also said that money would be better spent on upgrading provincial airports.
“If we expect tourism to be the boon of our economy, part of the MRT subsidy must be diverted to our airports,” Sarmiento said.
Sarmiento is just the latest district representative from outside Manila to push for an end to state subsidies on Manila's trains.
Four Cebu representatives, Eduardo Gullas (1st District), Tomas Osmeña (2nd district), Pablo John Garcia (3rd district), and Rachel Del Mar (Cebu City) told Sun.Star on Thursday that they saw nothing wrong with raising fares on Manila's trains.
Garcia said there was no reason for Cebu taxpayers to pay to keep Metro Manila's train fares low.
Negros Occidental Representative Alfredo Benitez and sectoral Representative Sherwin Tugna of Citizens Battle Against Corruption (Cibac) also agreed that subsidies should be cut.
Senator Recto has opposed pending fare hikes on the metropolis's trains, saying although fares may be raised, these should come with better service and more trains.
"Caving in to a fare increase now would be tantamount to rewarding inefficiency,” he said.
Senator Joker Arroyo on Thursday hinted at a Senate resolution being passed around for signatures. The resolution is expected to urge President Benigno Aquino III to delay the fare hike.
Resolutions are expressions of the sense of the Senate on an issue but are not binding and cannot keep the DOTC from raising fares.
As of Friday, there is no counterpart resolution at the House of Representatives. (Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)