By Gerry Albert Corpuz and Manila Legarda
MANILA, Philippines – A group of affected rural producers on Saturday urged members of the Philippine parliament to act with dispatch and stop the looming hikes in toll fees, after the Philippine high tribunal declare the recent increases as legal and constitutional.
The activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Saturday urged lawmakers from both houses of Congress to cross party lines, call a special session and pass a joint resolution to scrap if not indefinitely suspend the implementation of toll increase at the South Luzon Expressway (SLEx).In a press statement, Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap said Congress can exercise its legislative powers and remedies to spare millions of people in Southern Luzon and the National Capital Region from bearing the brunt of the 250 percent hike in SLEx toll fees.“President Benigno Simeon Aquino III will not stop the toll fee increase at SLEx because he wants to lure foreign investors to takeover SLEx that would promise lucrative business and sure super profits for foreign investments. So the ball is now Congress court to stop this highway robbery in broad daylight,” said Hicap.
The Pamalakaya leader asked Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte to lead the authorship and sponsorship of a joint Senate-House resolution that would indefinitely suspend the implementation of SLEx toll hike, which should be followed by a full-blown congressional inquiry on toll hike proposals that would include the Northern Luzon Expressway (NLEx) and South Metro Manila Skyway.
“The 250 percent increase in toll fees at SLEx is not only a case of highway robbery in broad daylight. This burdensome hike in toll fees is tantamount to economic sabotage,” added Hicap.
Following the Supreme Court ruling junking the petition against SLEx toll increase, South Luzon Tollways Corporation (SLTC) president Isaac David said the increase toll rates at SLEx will be implemented by next week or early November.David said the toll increase would enable STLC to pay its debts from creditors amounting to P 1 billion in the past two months. In a decision released Thursday last week, the Supreme Court declared as valid and constitutional the supplemental toll operation agreement (STOA) covering the Luzon Tollway Project between the government and SLEx, as well as the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) resolutions allowing rate increases.The SLTC had spent P 12 billion for the rehabilitation of SLEx which cover the rehabilitation of Alabang viaduct and the widening of highway. The company which is backed by Malaysia’s MTD Capital holds a 30-year concession to operate SLEx and it is allowed to collect toll to ensure that it gets a 17-percent return on investment every year.
Pamalakaya said the 250 percent increase in SLEx toll fees would further push trade cartels and buyers of agricultural and fishery products in Southern Luzon to cut farm gate prices of farmers and fisherfolk produce in the Bicol and Southern Tagalog regions. “The cartel will further cut prices of farm gate prices by as much as 50 percent. Because of toll hikes at SLEx, fish traders will further reduce the average of fish price of P 50 per kilo to P 30 or P 25 per kilo. To ensure fish cartels would have money for toll fees and still make profits, fish cartels on the other hand will jack up prices of fish products by another 10 to 20 percent at the expense of the fish buying and eating public. This is one of negative impacts of the 250 percent increase in SLEx toll hike,” said Pamalakaya. (With reports from Pepsi Laloma and Sarsi Pimentel)