Friday, January 2, 2015

A tale of two subsidies: Amid cuts in MRT/LRT subsidy, travel budget of public officials hiked by 90%

02 January 2015

The labor group Partido Manggagawa (PM) has found another reason to oppose the impending fare hike in the metro rail system upon learning that government obligations to subsidize the travel budget of public officials has been increasing by at least P1.5 billion every year since 2011.

Fares in the MRT/LRT systems shall increase by up to 87% beginning Sunday, January 4.

“Clearly, there is a tale of inequality in this issue.  First, the fare hike, as admitted by Sec. Abaya himself, is meant not for service upgrade but mainly for debt payments to an onerous contract with a private concessionaire.  Second, the budget cut is imposed against poor commuters while travel budget for public officials keeps on increasing,” said PM spokesman Wilson Fortaleza.

Fortaleza said that based on available data the MRT and LRT systems carry an estimated load of 500 million rides every year mostly from the working class.  A market survey done by Nielsen in 2009 showed blue collar workers comprising 41% of train riders; 15% white collar; 19% non-working; 16% students; 4% professionals; and 5% proprietors.

According to Fortaleza, while Malacanang has uncaringly decided to remove the P7 to P10-B subsidy to millions of train riders, purportedly to re-channel the freed budget to other social services, it resourcefully kept on increasing the travel budget of public officials by at least P1.5-B every year.

He explained that based on the Summary of Obligations of the National Government, CY 2013-2014 posted at the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) website, travelling expenses in 2011 amounted to P7.8-B; P9.3-B in 2012 and P11.8-B in 2013. 

Under the general provisions of the General Appropriations Act, Travelling Expenses is defined as payment of claims for reimbursement of travelling and related expenses incurred in the course of official travel by officials and employees of the government. They may include free air, land and sea travel, fuel subsidy, hotel accommodations, and even parking fees. 

Fortaleza added that based on the proposed National Expenditure Program for 2015, travelling expenses amounts to more or less P15-B, hence an increase of 92% from P7.8-B in 2011 to P15-B in 2015.

“Compared to a daily crushing ride at MRT, the billions of pesos of taxpayers’ money appropriated for travelling expenses provided safe and comfortable travel to our public officials, many of whom do not utilize the mass transport system,” said Fortaleza.

The labor group disclosed further that VIP’s in government shall enjoy a good amount of privileges from the more or less P15-B of travelling expenses allotted for 2015.  They include the following: 

Office                                        Travel Budget 2015                         Daily Equivalent

Office of the President                        308,764,000                                           846,000
Office of the Vice President                  23,900,000                                              65,000
House of Representatives                   624,291,000                                        1,710,000
The Senate                                           280,672,000                                           769,000
The Supreme Court                             285,474,000                                           782,000

Likewise the heads of government agencies enjoy big amounts of travel budgets this year.  Fortaleza cites, for instance, the Office of Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), the agency that oversees the operations of the MRT and LRT system enjoying a travel budget of P69.9 million or P192,000 a day.

Meanwhile the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), a small office under the Office of the President, is getting a 38% increase in travel budget amounting to P123,410,000 or P338,000 a day.

Travelling expense, according to PM, is a major part of the government’s maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) and forms part of the many perks and privileges public officials enjoy in the performance of their duties and responsibilities.

“Workers cannot ask for the same privileges unless we ourselves run this government.  It is absolutely just and fair, however, to demand better treatment amid the comfort and affluence of our rulers,” concluded Fortaleza.

The group called on train riders to express their opposition to the fare hike in various forms such as official petitions, social media campaign, and direct actions.

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