How Aquino betrayed public interest in LRT 1 privatization

Photo from Bulatlat.com
Photo from Bulatlat.com

Read the first part – How MVP-Ayala will squeeze LRT 1 commuters dry

In forging the Concession Agreement with the MVP-Ayala group, President Aquino has betrayed the public interest and welfare and has put government in a patently disadvantageous position.

While DOTC officials claim that the MVP-Ayala group submitted a negative bid of P9.5 billion – meaning they will pay government such amount to do the project – it is the commuters who will ultimately bear the burden as the concessionaire will recover the money from the riding public through higher fares as I explained in the previous post.

Furthermore, the P9.5 billion will also be offset by the numerous perks that the MVP-Ayala group will enjoy under the Concession Agreement such as the P5-billion government subsidy as project startup and government assumption of payment of real property taxes (estimated at P64 billion!)

Why is the Concession Agreement designed so favorably for the MVP-Ayala group? The idea behind PPP/privatization is to create the most conducive environment for private business. And to ensure that, the private investors will utilise all their connections and resources. The Ayala family, of course, has long been a political ally and crony of the Aquino family while there are claims that DOTC Undersecretary Rene Limcaoco, who was among those who pushed for LRT 1 privatization, is related to top Ayala executive Jose Teodoro Limcaoco.

Anyway, with its permission, I am posting in full the position paper prepared by the Alliance against LRT Privatization which discussed the different issues related to the takeover by the MVP-Ayala group, including the onerous terms of the Concession Agreement and the displacement of hundreds of LRT 1 employees.

Position Paper on the Privatization of the LRT1 Operations and Maintenance and the Implementation of the LRT Line 1 Extension PPP project

The Alliance Against LRT Privatization (AALP) opposes the privatization of the LRT1 Operations and Maintenance and the Public Private Partnership program for the construction the LRT1 Cavite Extension. The project is grossly disadvantageous to the riding public, the government and the employees of LRTA.

Why PPP?

The government’s privatization program dubbed Public Private Partnership has been touted as the solution to the lack of services and infrastructure plaguing the government. Under this scheme, private investors will supposedly bring in investments that will benefit the people, thus easing the financial burden on government.

As stated in its PPP brochure, “the PPP seeks to encourage greater participation of the private sector in the provision of basic public infrastructure through investments, construction, and operation and management programs. The program intends to provide the public with adequate, safe, efficient, reliable, and reasonably-priced infrastructure and development facilities while affording the private sector a level playing field, reasonable returns and appropriate sharing of risks. Government sees this as a reliable and solid strategy to efficiently deliver its services, create more job opportunities through a dynamic and solid infrastructure program.”

But beyond the rhetoric is the grim reality that the government, in adopting the PPP scheme, is essentially abandoning its role in the development of the country, leaving it instead to the hands of private investors. Government refuses to learn from the bitter lessons of earlier privatization schemes that have raised the fees for services, increased government debt and resulted in mass retrenchment of state workers

Attracting investors via “sweeteners”

In the early phase of the PPP Program, the Aquino government has vowed not to employ “sweeteners,” purportedly to avoid pitfalls besieging PPP predecessors such as, among others, the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) Scheme employed in the privatization of the National Power Corporation (NPC), and the Build-Lease-Transfer (BLT) Scheme of the MRT3, that consequently increased government’s debt burden due to sovereign guarantees given to entice private sector participation (PSP).

However, the privatization of the Operations and Maintenance of the entire LRT1 has served as a sweetener to the LRT1 Cavite Extension Project. While the winning bidder is in the process of constructing the extension from Baclaran Station to Niyog, Bacoor, Cavite, the national government has offered the private concessionaire the operations and maintenance of the entire LRT1 system, from Roosevelt Station to the Baclaran Station.

Currently, the profitability of the entire LRT1 system has been maintained after the national government took over the operation and maintenance of the entire system from the private sector, specifically, Metro, Inc. a subsidiary of the Meralco Corp. in 1999.

Based on its 2013 financial statements, the LRTA has earned a gross revenue of PhP 2.5 Billion from its LRT1 operations. Prudent spending and high public patronage has enabled the LRTA to achieve a 1.26 farebox ratio, one of the highest in the international rail community. Farebox ratio is the fraction of operational expenses, which are met by the fare paid by the passengers. It is computed by dividing the gross revenue by the total operating expenses.  LRT1’s high farebox ratio signifies that rail revenues generated, excluding non-rail income (from advertising, lease, etc.), were more than enough to cover the operating expenses for the year with extra funds for other expenditures (e.g. subsidy for LRT2 operations). In the present set-up, where the LRTA operates and maintains LRT1, the working capital is not subsidized by the government.

The privatization of the operations of an entirely profitable system will ensure another source of profit to the winning bidder in the Line Extension. We should question whether the profits earned from the operations of LRT 1 would be the source of the investments for the Line 1 Extension.

Disadvantageous to the government and commuters

To attract investors, government assumed even more financial risks while passing on increased financial burdens on the consumers.

  1. Government assumes payment of Real Property Taxes. On November 21, 2013, the NEDA revised the terms of the Cavite Extension Project to conform to the demands of the bidders, including the payment of Real Property Taxes (RPT) to be shouldered by the national government. This means government will pay around PhP 64 Billion for the entire 32-year contract period. This will only result to more debt burdens for the government.
  2. Fares will increase as a result of privatization. The government agreed to a  5% fare increase upon project completion, The government is also keen on implementing the new distanced-based fare adjustment that has been stalled since 2011 due to public opposition. At the earliest, the DOTC hopes to increase fares by August 2014 prior to the target effectivity of the Concession Agreement on September 2014. This will ensure higher profitability for the Concessionaire, as well as higher base fare for any future fare adjustments it will require upon project completion.
  3. Government guarantees automatic fare adjustments as well as fare hikes based on inflation. Not only is the Concessionaire allowed a 5% fare increase upon project completion, the government, based on the Concession Agreement, also allows for succeeding adjustments of the Notional Fare:
    • “The Notional Fare shall be adjusted on August 1, 2016 and every second anniversary thereafter (Notional Fare Setting Date) by an effective rate of 5% per annum or 10.25% per adjustment (Schedule 9, Part 1B: Financial Matters, page 173, Schedules, CA).”
    • “The Concessionaire or the Grantor may request that the Notional Fare be examined every 4 years from the first Notional Fare Setting Date and may be adjusted to reflect movements in inflation (Inflation Rebasing), on a Notional Fare Setting Date, where the first Inflation Rebasing may be implemented on August 1, 2018…(Schedule 9, Part 1D: Financial Matters, page 175, Schedules, CA).”
  4. Private concessionaries will pass on VAT to commuters. If a Sales Tax or Value Added Tax (VAT) is levied on the fares, the government allows the Concessionaire to pass this cost as part of the fare collected from the passengers of LRT1 (Schedule 9, Part 1E: Financial Matters, page 177, Schedules, CA).
  5. Changes in power rates will be passed on to commuters. The government agreed to a Differential Generation Cost (DGC) adjustment under the Concession Agreement (Schedule 9, Part 3: Differential Generation Cost, pp. 183-187, Schedules, CA). The DGC mechanism “is intended to take into account extreme fluctuations in generation costs, which comprises the largest component of power cost for the system, and allows upward adjustments to the Notional Fare and Approved Fares.” Under this scheme, the Concessionaire “shall be compensated for the DGC through fare adjustments…in relation to purchase of electric power from Meralco

With all these assurances from government, privatization removes from the private Concessionaire any financial liability and business risk, transferring instead all risks and liabilities to the government and the commuters.

The hybrid PPP mode itself is very lopsided and biased against the government. It is essentially called a hybrid PPP variant because if a project is more than PhP 60 Billion, half the cost is supposedly shouldered by the government through Official Development Assitance (ODA).

But under the LRT1 Cavite Extension Project, it is the government that will be shouldering the lion’s share of the cost of the project. Of the PhP 64.9 Billion total project cost, the private sector will shoulder PhP 30B for the civil works, electro-mechanical systems and other components of the viaduct, trackworks, stations and facilities, and the operations and maintenance. On the other hand, government will shoulder PhP 34.9 Billion of the cost for Right of Way Acquisition, Purchase of Coaches, Civil Works for the upgrading of the existing Depot and construction of the Satellite Depot.  On top of these expenditures, government will also shoulder the roughly PhP 64 Billion payment for Real Property Taxes.

Displacement of Workers

In the privatization of the LRT1 Operations and Maintenance, around 964 Contractual Employees of the LRTA are to be hired by the Concessionaire subject to a probationary period of 6 months, in which the Labor Code provisions, no longer the Civil Service provisions, shall govern. Some of these Transferring Employees have been with the LRTA for almost 15 years when the LRTA took over from the Metro, Inc. and would have been eligible for old age pension under the GSIS Law by 2015 or after 15 years of government service.

Within 3 months, the Concessionaire shall conduct an assessment of the transferred employees and determine who shall continue to be employed by the Concessionaire after the lapse of the 6 months period. After the lapse of the 6 months period, “if the Concessionaire wishes to dismiss any employee due to Economic Causes (e.g. installation of labor-saving devices and/or redundancy), then the Concessionaire may do so in accordance with relevant rules and procedures (Section 6.3, page 58, CA).

The privatization of the Automated Fare Collection System this year has clearly provided the LRT1 Concessionaire with the “economic cause” to terminate employees after the lapse of the probationary period. Conservatively, only around 241 or a fourth of the transferred employees will remain with the Concessionaire, possibly to be sub-contracted.

Hence, contrary to the government spin that the PPP program will create more job opportunities, it will in effect displace workers, after the 6 months probationary period.

Horrors of Past Private Sector Partnerships

From the current provisions of the Concession Agreement and the TOR for the PPP Project, it seems that the government has once again refused to learn from its past failures in privatization.

The previous BLT and BOT schemes indeed delivered the required infrastructures for the public but with horrific consequences for the government and the people in general. The Privatization of the MWSS has resulted to periodic increases in the cost of water, now totaling nearly 400%. The privatization of the assets of the National Power Corporation has placed power generation in the hands of big business and has increased power rates by a 100% from the time EPIRA was enacted.

Closer to the LRT1 scenario is the MRT3 experience, which invariably had the most lopsided risk allocation profile against the government. At first the government promised no state subsidy, but with 8 revisions to the Concession Agreement, government assumed the financing for the Right of Way Acquisition, and up to now has been assuming the traffic risks, and extended loan guarantees. Government allocates some P7 billion a year to pay for the financial obligations of the MRT arising from the lopsided contract. The government is now trying to buy back MRT3 from the MRTC.

What the government seems to forget is the basic dynamics between the government and the public sector for past PPP or BOT project implementations. The PPP or BOT projects revolve around financial viability for the private sector and economic viability for the public sector. Both sectors have varying objectives: for the government, it is to implement the project, while for the private sector, the objective is to maximize the Return of Investment (ROI), which can only occur by increasing the cost of the project assumed by the public sector or increasing support from the government either in terms of tax breaks, credit enhancements, subsidies, and the like, or reducing risks.

To expose vital government infrastructures to the desire of the private sector to maximize profits is to expose the government to more risks, instead of benefits. The past has proven that the benefits have far outweighed the benefits derived.

What is also frightening is the power wielded by the winning bidder. The Ayala-Metro Pacific (MVP) consortium would eventually control Line 1 operations, the Automated Fare Collection System, and the construction of the Line 1 extension. Metro Pacific also controls part of the MRT 3. This is a virtual monopoly in the train line which will remove any possible checks and balances regarding its performance and give them tremendous control to dictate fares.

Call to action

We, the Alliance Against LRT Privatization, a network of concerned individuals, employees and commuters, call on the people to reject the privatization of the LRT Line 1 Operations and Maintenance and the hybrid PPP mode of implementation of the LRT1 Cavite Extension Project.

We call on Congress to conduct an inquiry on the present state of the LRT Line Systems, amend the Procurement Law to fast track the procurement of vital capital spare parts and arrest the downgrading of the LRT systems and facilities, and to increase the capitalization of the LRTA from the current PhP3 Billion to PhP300 Billion.

Finally, we call on the people to resist the on-going privatization of vital government services to the detriment of greater access of these services for the people.###

How MVP-Ayala will squeeze LRT 1 commuters dry

Fare hikes galore as the MVP-Ayala group takes over the LRT 1
Fare hikes galore as the MVP-Ayala group takes over the LRT 1 (Photo from ppp.gov.ph)

A fare hike after the presidential State of the Nation Address (Sona) and massive retrenchment of LRT 1 employees by early next year are among the immediate impacts of the Php64.9-billion LRT 1 extension and privatization project.

As the lone bidder in the largest public-private partnership (PPP) deal of the Aquino administration, the group led by Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) of Manny Pangilinan (MVP)/Salim Group (Indonesia) and Ayala Corp. of the Ayala family, a long-time crony of the Aquinos, is now all set to take over the operation of the country’s first-ever metropolitan rail system from the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA).

MPIC (55%) and Ayala (35%), together with Australia-based investment giant Macquaire (10%) have formed the Light Rail Manila Consortium to extend the LRT 1 from its current endpoint in Baclaran to Niyog in Bacoor, Cavite.

I was able to obtain a copy of the final Concession Agreement and its Annexes/Schedules. You may download the Concession Agreement here. As for the Schedules, contact me through the comment section below to get a copy. The files are too big and it takes time to upload everything.

(You may now access all the documents here.)

Based on the Concession Agreement and Schedules, the concessionaires will implement an initial Notional Fare composed of P12.13 in boarding fare plus P1.10 per kilometer (distance fare component) starting on August 1, 2014. Notional fare refers to the fare that the concessionaire is entitled to under the Concession Agreement.

This means that a commuter travelling from Roosevelt to Baclaran will pay a new fare of more than P32 – representing the P12.13 in boarding fare plus a distance fare of P19.88 (P1.10 x 18.07 kilometers or the distance between the Roosevelt and Baclaran stations). That’s P12 more or 60% higher than the current fare. (See Table)

Old fares vs. new fares under LRT 1 privatization (Figures in pesos unless stated otherwise)
From Roosevelt to: Distance (km) Distance fare (@ Php1.10 per km) Distance fare + Php12.13 boarding fare Current fare Difference Increase (%)
Balintawak 1.87 2.06 14.19 12.00 2.19 18.23
Monumento 4.12 4.53 16.66 12.00 4.66 38.85
5th Avenue 5.21 5.73 17.86 12.00 5.86 48.84
R. Papa 6.16 6.78 18.91 12.00 6.91 57.55
J.A. Santos 6.82 7.50 19.63 15.00 4.63 30.88
Blumentritt 7.75 8.53 20.66 15.00 5.66 37.70
Tayuman 8.42 9.26 21.39 15.00 6.39 42.61
Bambang 9.04 9.94 22.07 15.00 7.07 47.16
D. Jose 9.69 10.66 22.79 15.00 7.79 51.93
Carriedo 10.37 11.41 23.54 15.00 8.54 56.91
Central 11.10 12.21 24.34 15.00 9.34 62.27
U.N. 12.31 13.54 25.67 15.00 10.67 71.14
Pedro Gil 13.06 14.37 26.50 15.00 11.50 76.64
Quirino 13.86 15.25 27.38 15.00 12.38 82.51
Vito Cruz 14.68 16.15 28.28 15.00 13.28 88.52
Buendia 15.75 17.33 29.46 15.00 14.46 96.37
Libertad 16.48 18.13 30.26 15.00 15.26 101.72
Edsa 17.49 19.24 31.37 20.00 11.37 56.85
Baclaran 18.07 19.88 32.01 20.00 12.01 60.04
Sources: LRT 1 privatization Concession Agreement and LRTA

Also, it is higher than the original and long-delayed fare hike that the DOTC approved which was P11 in boarding fare plus P1 per additional kilometer. If transportation officials decide to implement this (the approved fare) instead of the initial notional fare, the concessionaire is still assured to collect what was committed to them under the Concession Agreement. In the Concession Agreement, if the Approved Fare (e.g. P11 + 1) is lower than the Notional Fare (e.g. P12.13 + 1.10), government will pay the concessionaire the difference through the so-called Deficit Payment scheme.

In other words, the concessionaire is protected from any regulatory intervention on fare setting, as government, using taxpayers’ money, is obligated under the Concession Agreement to fulfill the guaranteed profits of the concessionaire (generated through the notional fare) at any cost. This is a form of regulatory risk guarantee that Aquino said he would use to promote his PPP program.

But the fare hike through the initial Notional Fare is just the start of regular and automatic fare increases under LRT 1 privatization. Under the Concession Agreement, once the extension of the LRT 1 to Bacoor, Cavite has been completed, the Notional Fare will be automatically increased by 5% through the Step-up Fare Adjustment.

Further, on top of the Step-up Fare Adjustment, the concessionaire is also entitled to increase the Notional Fare starting on August 1, 2016 and every second anniversary thereafter (or the Notional Fare Setting Date) by an effective rate of 5% per annum or 10.25% per adjustment through the Periodic Adjustment of the Notional Fare scheme.

This means that by August 1, 2016, the Notional Fare would now be P13.37 in boarding fare plus P1.21 in distance fare. An LRT 1 ride from Roosevelt to Baclaran thus would already cost around P35 by that time. And this assumes that the 5% Step-up Fare Adjustment is not yet being implemented two years from now (the Cavite extension is estimated to take three years).

Note that the Periodic Adjustment of the Notional Fare will occur every two years throughout the 32-year lifespan of the Concession Agreement. It could even be longer as the Concession Agreement may be extended until 50 years.

But the commuters’ woes do not end there. Aside from the Periodic Adjustment of the Notional Fare every two years, there is also the Inflation Rebasing of the Notional Fare every four years to reflect movements in inflation. The first inflation rebasing will take place in August 2018 per the Concession Agreement.

Indeed, the Concession Agreement applies the neoliberal principle of full cost recovery in LRT 1 fare determination, thus assuring the MVP-Ayala group of substantial profits at the expense of consumers.

On top of the regular and automatic fare adjustments already mentioned, the concessionaire is also entitled to the Differential Generation Cost mechanism, which allows it to pass on to the commuters the cost of extreme fluctuations in the generation costs of electricity through a fare hike (although capped at 5% of the notional fare).

Considering that LRT 1’s power supplier Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) is also controlled by the MVP group while the Ayalas are also in the power generation business, the Differential Generation Cost thus represent multiple oppression and burden for commuters and multiple profits for the MVP-Ayala tandem.

Finally, the Concession Agreement made it clear as well that in case a value-added tax (VAT) or sales tax is imposed on LRT 1 fares, the cost of such tax shall be fully passed on to the commuters, further bloating their burden.

LRT 1, even without a fare hike, is already generating more than enough revenues for LRTA and government. In 2013, LRT 1 operations generated a farebox ratio of 1.26, reportedly one of the highest in the international rail community. It means that revenues from commuter fares exceed the operating expenses of the system. It does not even include non-rail income (from advertising, lease, etc.). With increasing ridership and fares, LRT 1’s farebox ratio is expected to further rise, translating to more profits for the MVP-Ayala group.

If you still could not imagine how LRT 1 fares would cost several years from now under the operation and management of MVP, the Ayalas and their foreign partners, just look at the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS). The MWSS Concession Agreement is very similar to the LRT 1 Concession Agreement with its provisions on rate rebasing, inflation-based adjustments, and other pass-on schemes. Since the MWSS privatization deal took effect in 1997, the average basic water rates have jumped by 585% (Maynilad) to 1,119% (Manila Water).

Another similarity? The MVP group (Maynilad) and the Ayalas (Manila Water) are also MWSS’s private concessionaires!

By clinching the LRT 1 privatization deal, the MVP-Ayala tandem is now starting to assert its monopoly control over Metro Manila’s light rail system. The duo has already bagged the P1.72-billion Automatic Fare Collection System (AFCS), another PPP project of the Aquino administration, which involves the operation and management of a centralized fare collection system using contactless-based smart card technology for LRT Lines 1 and 2, and MRT Line 3 (which the MVP group partly controls as well).

Meanwhile, the P1.4-billion LRT-MRT common station, which will connect the LRT Line 1 and MRT 3 (and the soon to be built MRT 7), will also be constructed by the MVP-Ayala tandem as part of the LRT 1 contract, and will be connected to the Ayala-owned Trinoma Mall – assuring it of an increasing stream of mall patrons.

In my next post, I will share the position paper prepared by a group calling itself the Alliance against LRT Privatization (AALP). Their paper comprehensively discussed other controversial issues related to the impending takeover of the MVP-Ayala group, including the massive displacement of LRT 1 employees. To be concluded (Read Part 2 – How Aquino betrayed public interest in LRT 1 privatization)

Sona 2013: Silent on water tax, all-out on LRT/MRT fare hike

Photo by Cheryl Favila/Reuters
Photo by Cheryl Ravelo/Reuters

Two things stood out in the State of the Nation Address (Sona) that reaffirmed the big business and neoliberal bias of President Benigno Aquino III. First, which stood out because of its conspicuous absence in the Sona, is the issue of passed on income taxes and other expenses by Manila Water and Maynilad. Second is the all-out push by Aquino to hike the fares in LRT and MRT, which is tied to the regime’s public-private partnership (PPP) or privatization program.

Incidentally, both involve two influential business interests that are widely seen to have close ties with the Aquino administration – the Ayala family and the group of Manny V. Pangilinan (MVP). The Ayalas control Manila Water while the MVP group controls Maynilad. These big business interests have also set up the Light Rail Manila Consortium, one of the bidders in the scheduled privatization of LRT 1 this month.

Double standards

Aquino’s evasion of the water income tax issue underscores the double standards of his daang matuwid and anti-corruption rhetoric, which as usual was again prominent in his speech. In his Sona, the President praised the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) for instituting reforms in the agency. It will be recalled that in his first Sona, Aquino hit the water agency for hefty bonuses enjoyed by its officials. Such anomaly has already been addressed, said Aquino, citing the almost P2-billion income of MWSS last year from a P34-million deficit in 2010. He also praised Sec. Rogelio Singson, who used to be president and CEO of Maynilad, for addressing corruption in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

But while extolling the MWSS and Singson for the supposed good governance reforms in their agencies, Aquino did not mention the onerous Concession Agreement that involved MWSS and Singson and made consumers pay for the income taxes, corporate donations, advertisements and other expenses of Maynilad and Manila Water. More importantly, the President said nothing on what he intends to do with the said anomalous PPP contract. Did Sec. Rene Almendras, who as former Manila Water president was also involved in implementing the controversial Concession Agreement had a hand in determining the content of the Sona in his capacity as Secretary to the Cabinet?

The presence of former top executives of the Ayalas and MVP in key Cabinet positions and the PPP as centerpiece economic program of the Aquino administration explain the deliberate silence of the President on the controversy hounding Manila Water and Maynilad. While the MWSS-Regulatory Office is disputing the private water concessionaires on the issue of income taxes and other pass-on charges, it is still Malacañang that will be decisive ultimately.

Through their paid ads weeks before the Sona, Manila Water and Maynilad have warned not only the regulators but Malacañang itself on the supposed sanctity of privatization contracts. They know that the privatization of MWSS is regarded as the barometer of PPP in the Philippines and a decision detrimental to the water concessionaires (and favorable to the consumers) will seriously undermine the PPP initiatives of Aquino. Aquino’s refusal to issue a categorical statement backing the widespread public clamor against the questionable charges of Manila Water and Maynilad in his Sona speaks volumes about where the President’s loyalty lies. Malacañang apparently does not want to upset the Ayalas and the MVP group which have been among the most aggressive in securing PPP contracts from government.

Fare hike and privatization

While Aquino was silent on the abusive pricing of Manila Water and Maynilad and the oppressiveness of the Concession Agreement, the President was clear in his relentless push to increase the fares in LRT and MRT. Like the MWSS, the LRT and MRT fare hike was also among the controversial issues raised by Aquino in his first Sona.

Reiterating his position in 2010, Aquino claimed that increasing the LRT and MRT fares to approximate air conditioned bus fares is justified. He raised the argument repeatedly pointed out by Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) officials – that government is supposedly subsidizing P25 (LRT) to P45 (MRT). Freeing up such subsidies means more funds for social services that will benefit the entire country and not only the Metro Manila commuters, argued the President. The DOTC has earlier announced that it will implement a P10-fare hike to be implemented in two tranches.

But it has been pointed out that the supposed subsidies, in the case of MRT, actually go to service debts arising from the guaranteed profits and sovereign guarantees given by government to the train system’s former private operators. LRT lines, on the other hand, are generating enough revenues to cover its maintenance and operation, although debts also bloat the total costs. Debts, however, should not be passed on to commuters as mass transportation is a public investment that generates economic and social gains.

Aquino and his transportation officials are not saying it, but the real reason behind the persistent drive to raise LRT and MRT fares is the government’s grand PPP program for Metro Manila’s light rail system. It will start with the P60.63-billion LRT 1 extension and privatization, the biggest PPP project so far of the administration. Increasing the fares would demonstrate government’s resolve and ability to regularly adjust fares, despite its unpopularity, to make the system profitable as planned in the draft 35-year Concession Agreement for LRT 1.

The said LRT 1 Concession Agreement is as onerous as the MWSS Concession Agreement. Its latest draft (as of June 27) still contains the so-called regulatory risk guarantee. Section 20.4.a of the draft agreement allows the private LRT 1 operator to secure “deficit payment” from government (i.e., taxpayers) when the approved fare is lower than the “notional fare”. The notional fare is a pre-determined fare level set out in the Concession Agreement that will ensure the commercial viability of LRT 1 and the profits of its private operator. This effectively deregulates the setting of fares and renders meaningless any intervention from Congress, the courts and other regulatory agencies.

Aside from the Ayala-MVP group, other LRT 1 bidders are presidential Uncle Danding Cojuangco’s SMC Infra Resources Inc.; the Consunjis’ DMCI Holdings Inc., which also lists Japanese giant Marubeni Corp. as one of its partners; and the MTD Samsung Consortium of Malaysia and South Korea.

Aquino packaged his Sona as the Sona of the people. He claimed that inclusive growth is behind every initiative of his administration. The past three years say otherwise. His silence on the Manila Water and Maynilad controversy, his all-out push for LRT and MRT fare hike, his rabid promotion of neoliberal privatization, all say otherwise. (END)