There will be no toll rate increase in any of the toll expressways in the first few weeks of January 2013 (at least, not yet), in the same way that there was no toll rate increase in any of the toll expressways early last year and for the rest of the year. While all of the tollway operators have filed petitions for toll rate increase way back in 2011 and have been pushing for toll rate increases since then, I have consistently opposed their petitions and any toll rate increase. Such consistent opposition is one of the reasons we are still enjoying the old toll rates.
I have not been opposing the petitions for toll rate increase just for the sake of opposing. My opposition is premised on my position that the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) should revise its rules of procedure to make sure that real public hearings are conducted; that the TRB should perform its own rate-fixing duty and not just rely on the rates proposed and fixed by the tollway operators; that there should be no automatic toll rate adjustment every two or three years as insisted by the tollway operators; and that the Commission on Audit should conduct its constitutional and statutory duty to protect the public from exorbitant and unreasonable toll rate increases. There is nothing unusual or unreasonable about my position because all of the foregoing are requirements prescribed by the Supreme Court in its decision in Ernesto B. Francisco Jr., et al. vs. Toll Regulatory Board, et al., promulgated on Oct. 22, 2010.
But I am no superman. Seriously, a situation wherein only a single individual regularly attends the hearings being conducted by the TRB and wherein that single individual assumes the role of sole opposer and counsel for all other tollway users and motorists who are not even aware that the hearings are taking place, cannot go on forever. Starting January 2013, there will be successive hearings and trials on the five separate petitions for toll rate adjustment which were filed way back in 2011 by five tollway operators and their battery of lawyers from big law firms. I will have to admit that it will be very difficult on my part to take on this task without any help from the public.
This is an urgent call, therefore, on all tollway users and motorists that if they want to ensure that the toll fees they pay are fair, reasonable and affordable, they should participate and play an active role in the hearings being conducted by the TRB. The help of everyone—especially volunteer lawyers, financial analysts and accountants—will be most needed and welcome in the coming days.
—ERNESTO B. FRANCISCO JR.,
Francisco Law Office,