Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Malilong: Helping the habal-habal

The Other Side

THE week before last Christmas, I spoke to a habal-habal driver. He said his net averaged daily take was five hundred pesos, which was barely enough to meet his family’s needs since his wife was unemployed.

“It’s not much but at least it brings food to the table,” he said in Cebuano. But even that, they’re threatening to take away from us, he added sadly.

“They” are the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), which ordered the apprehension of all passenger-sharing motorcycles last month after the Supreme Court barred a Mandaluyong court from enforcing its restraining order that had prevented the LTFRB from implementing its ban on the use of motorcycles as public utility carriers,

In a way, the habal-habal is collateral damage because the original LTFRB target was Angkas, which styles itself on its Facebook page as a provider of “convenient, reliable and affordable motorbike transportation.” It is a motorbike-hailing business owned by a company called the DBDOYC Inc. It was Angkas/DBDOYC that went to the Regional Trial Court of Mandaluyong to contest the LTFRB’s ban and obtained the restraining order. When the Supreme Court lifted the TRO, habal-habal found itself beside Angkas on the Department of Transportation’s (DOTr’s) crosshairs.

After the LTFRB announced that it was resuming its stalled campaign against Angkas, its officials declared that they were defying the ban and were ready to support their drivers but retreated a couple of days later, saying that they have instructed their riders not only to comply but to be always courteous and respectful of the authorities.

The LTFRB’s position is that Angkas should be banned from operating because it is considered a colorum public transport system since it does not have a franchise from Congress. The habal-habal does not have a franchise either but it has not attracted attention apparently because it is not a big business like Angkas. There is a Cebuano word that appropriately describes what happened to habal-habal and their riders: “napagan.”

The case between Angkas and the LTFRB is still pending in the Supreme Court. Angkas said the SC merely restrained the Mandaluyong RTC from barring the LTFRB from apprehending its motorbikes; it has not yet decided whether their operations are legal or illegal.

Now comes Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña and his plan to ask the Supreme Court to lift its restraining order. He will be acting in behalf of the Cebu City Government and has in fact sought the city council’s authority to sue, perhaps in a separate petition or as intervenor in Angkas versus LTFRB.

How necessary is it for the City of Cebu to jump into the fray? Do we really believe that the weight of 6,000 riders and tens of thousands of passengers in Cebu City will be enough to convince the Supreme Court to allow Angkas to continue to operate? The court merely interprets the law; it does not make them. It cannot even decide whether a law is wise or not.

Angkas is a private entity. It is, I am sure, very well represented by competent lawyers. What can the City’s attorneys do that those of Angkas are not capable of doing, if they have not done them yet? What matters will the City raise that Angkas has not done that will justify the expenses that the City will necessarily incur in prosecuting the suit? Is it even legally permissible for the City of Cebu to file a petition to lift a restraining order issued against a court in faraway Mandaluyong?

We all feel for the habal-habal and the Angkas riders. They should not be deprived of the only means they know to support their respective families. They need help but it should be one that does not raise false hopes. Above all, their plight should not be exploited to fit a private agenda. That is even more cruel than not helping them at all.


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