No Free Lunch

When regulators miss the point

Our transport regulators have become such masters at inflicting maximum harm on the Filipino public all these years that it would seem they have elevated it into an art. With apologies to our noncity-dwelling readers who cannot relate to the issue, I refer here to the suspension imposed on ride-sharing technology company Uber—yet the latest illustration of what I mean. It’s a problem of deeper and wider significance affecting all of us Filipinos, symptomatic of a government that is highly dysfunctional.

The sad but exasperating part about the Uber fiasco is that the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) reveals how it completely misses the very point of its existence, and that of any regulatory body: upholding public welfare. Lest the LTFRB and some readers further miss the point, let me say at the outset that I’m not disputing its view (and probably hardly anyone else does) that Uber is culpable and deserves to be penalized in the latest episode of the issue surrounding the company. What is at issue is the “shotgun” penalty the LTFRB has imposed—the suspension that inflicts so much collateral damage far beyond Uber itself—when it could have employed a targeted “rifle” approach like fining the company, heavily if it must.


Perhaps even sadder is that the LTFRB’s missing the point in this latest decision can only be either inadvertent (thus reflecting incompetence) or deliberate (suggesting corruption). Whichever it is, I’m afraid the track record of our transport authorities—and this includes the Land Transport Office (LTO) that issues our driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations—would lead the average citizen to believe it is more a case of the latter. On the premise of good faith and that it’s really the former, I could almost feel sorry for them.

There seems to be an underlying mindset among our government regulators that nothing good should ever come easy. I have time and again written of my exasperation with the propensity of our government bureaucrats to seemingly find every way to inflict maximum hardship on the general public. Years ago, I wrote of the travails I went through when I sought to obtain that all-important clearance from the National Bureau of Investigation—a seeming exercise in sadism then. While I’ve heard that things have since improved, I don’t have firsthand knowledge as I thankfully haven’t had to apply for one lately.


I’ve written of how a departing international passenger at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport must go through up to 10 queues and control points, starting from approaching the airport to finally stepping into the plane. Little has changed on that. More recently I wrote of the exorbitant payment one has to make for a cursory “medical exam” required to renew one’s driver’s license, by a sole favored provider allowed to locate in the premises of the LTO office. I don’t see it having changed lately.

There’s a lot more. There’s the long list of requirements and signatures one must obtain at the municipal or city hall to open a business—a process that can take weeks, even months. Many local governments have seen the light and have streamlined the process. Then there are the duplicating, overlapping, or outdated permits, licenses or clearances an importer must produce before certain goods can be cleared for release at the Bureau of Customs. When a technical assistance project I headed made a full inventory and list of all these regulations two years ago, we found that more than 7,000 goods require such permits, licenses and clearances from dozens of government agencies. It turned out to be the first time an authoritative list was ever made.

Back to the LTFRB: What makes it so unpopular is its seemingly preposterous claim that the crackdown on Uber is meant to protect public safety—a cruel joke given how it has miserably failed to use its regulatory powers through the years to make its seemingly favored alternative, regular taxis, earn a reputation for safety, not to mention efficiency and comfort. Until they do, I’m afraid the regulators will continue to be the bad guys in the public eye.

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TAGS: Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), ride-sharing technology, Uber
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