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Editorial

Governance by pique

/ 05:08 AM January 24, 2020

After enduring a series of drastic and often illogical turns in public policy by government regulators this week, commuters can rest easy that the motorcycles for hire that they have come to heavily depend on to navigate hellish traffic will remain on the road for now.

Transport regulators and motorcycle taxi companies that have been at loggerheads agreed Wednesday to bury the hatchet and continue with the government’s test run of the service until at least March 23, after which the interagency technical working group (TWG) is supposed to submit recommendations that will help craft legislation to finally legalize the use of motorcycles for public transportation. Under the agreement reached between the Department of Transportation’s TWG and the motorcycle taxi companies participating in the pilot run, the rider cap in Metro Manila will be raised to 45,000 from 30,000, which means that pioneer company Angkas and newcomers JoyRide and MoveIt will be able to field 15,000 bikers each.

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Cagayan de Oro was also added to the areas covered by the pilot run, which had previously been limited to Metro Manila and Metro Cebu. And the TWG agreed to lift the threat of blacklisting Angkas for supposedly defying TWG guidelines, while Angkas agreed to withdraw cases it had filed against the TWG.

The road to this detente has been rough and revelatory—exposing, at the very least, the whimsical, power-tripping instincts of those in government charged to look after the public’s welfare, but are wont instead to engage in petty, spiteful actions when their egos get pricked.

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Witness the behavior of TWG head and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board member Antonio Gardiola Jr., who, just ahead of the Senate hearings on bills seeking to regulate motorcycle taxis, announced the abrupt end to the pilot study meant to assess the safety and viability of using motorcycles for public transport, still two months ahead of the March 23 deadline agreed upon last year. His reason? The “legal rigmarole” Angkas was supposedly throwing at the TWG. How dare Angkas take them on, Gardiola et al. apparently thought, and so the piqued TWG decided to just ditch the task it needed to do. The study it was supposed to submit to Congress was obviously much bigger than any quarrel with Angkas, because it would inform the eventual law that would regulate the newfangled service that had sprouted on the roads out of desperate necessity, with the citizens’ needs once again overtaking the government’s ability to provide adequate and timely redress for the transport mess. However, while the paramount focus should be on alleviating soonest the ordeal of ordinary commuters, Gardiola, seemingly intent on bearing down on Agkas for whatever reason, would rather engage in naked power play and governance by pique than doing his job properly.

The reaction was swift and unforgiving, and rightly so. The TWG was pilloried by the public and a number of government officials for its hasty, thoughtless actions, with Sen. Grace Poe and Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto slamming the decision to end the TWG study prematurely and declare all motorcycle taxis as illegal as an “act of revenge.” Indeed, the wording of the TWG recommendation to Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade to terminate the pilot run supports the speculation of Poe, chair of the Senate public services committee, that the TWG “got pissed” at Angkas. For instance, the two rallies organized by Angkas riders in December last year resulted in “numerous social media statements disparaging the TWG,” moaned Gardiola et al.

What delicate insides these bureaucrats must have, quickly made sick by “disparaging” social media posts and blithely plotting to strike back by disallowing motorcyle taxis while millions of Filipinos are out there battling infernal traffic, pollution and crime every day on the streets as they head for work and home, the motorcycle-for-hire service meanwhile now providing many of them a cheap, fast and relatively safe alternative to jampacked buses and the MRT and expensive Grab or taxi rides to surmount the soul-crushing daily gridlock.

Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite succinctly summed up the TWG charade: “One minute they are saying that they do not have enough data, the next minute they’re terminating the study without even having conclusive results. LTFRB member Antonio Gardiola’s immature action meant to spite Angkas for its legal actions would cause commuters and drivers undue suffering.”

The widespread public rebuke appears to have knocked some sense into the TWG’s head for now, and motorcycle taxis have been given a reprieve. But, once again, what a spectacle of government folly for such a commonsensical, clear-cut issue.

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TAGS: Angkas, government regulators, JoyRide, MoveIt, public policy, Technical Working Group
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