PGTW: Terrible trifecta thumps 2015

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 8 January 2015, Thursday

Terrible trifecta thumps 2015

It’s a horrible start to the year when citizens are clobbered with price hikes of basic utilities – transport, power, and water  – that will further cut into salaries already heavily taxed.

Around the holidays, the Department of Transport and Communication suddenly announced fare increases for the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) and Light Rail Transit (LRT), both essential transport services in Metro Manila, just a couple of weeks before their mplementation at the start of the year.

According to an MST news item, the fare hikes ranged from 50 to 87 percent – no small matter for the average wage earner who depends on the train system to take them to and from work.

Earlier this week, it was revealed that the National Transmission Corp. (NTC), a government agency, will be charging consumers an additional four centavos per kilowatt hour, supposedly in line with the Renewable Energy Act of 2008 which provides for the collection of a feed-in tariff allowance (FIT-All).

The funds are to be used for the development of renewable energy. However, it seems the money is being collected in advance of its actual use.

Last Tuesday, Maynilad Waterworks, Inc. said it would be implementing a hike in water rates, to be staggered over three years, from 2015 to 2017.

The average increase in cost will be around P3.06 per cubic meter.

These unconscionable and unnecessary price hikes will further strain the Filipino purse already stretched thin with the cost of education, medical care, housing, food, and other needs.

Senator Francis Escudero slammed the DOTC for not informing Congress during budget deliberations that the agency would be imposing the MRT and LRT fare hikes.

He said DOTC had asked for a sum “saying it was what they needed,” and that it was given to them, but had the Senate known about the planned rate increases, a lower budget would have been allocated. Congress, he added, had already given DOTC a budget for MRT rehabilitation in 2015.

Several groups have filed requests for temporary restraining orders against the implementation of the train fare hikes.

Meanwhile, lawyer Remigio Michael Ancheta appealed to the Supreme Court to stop the Energy Regulatory Commission from allowing the NTC to collect the additional fees, questioning the propriety of the agency’s application of the Renewable Energy law.

It’s possible that complaints and lawsuits against the water rate hike are yet to come, once its implications have been better studied.

What’s painful is that despite these price hikes, we are still not assured of decent services, much less improvements. Last year, the MRT management figured in several scandals, and one of its trains crashed through its barrier at the end of the line. Long lines for the trains are now the norm, adding to the average commute time.

Power outages occurred with frequency in the Visayas and Mindanao, while supply is expected to be tight all over the country this year, prompting some officials to appeal to lawmakers for emergency powers for the President to deal with the forecasted scenario.

If rotating brownouts are implemented in Manila, this would spell doom for the slipping economy. From a growth rate of 7.2 percent in 2013, the second-highest in Asia after China, it dipped to 5.3 percent in the third quarter of 2014.

Coping with these additional utility hikes will test the patience and strength of a people already forced to be repeatedly resilient in the face of frequent natural disasters and other challenges.

Add issues such as the insane traffic in the metro, and corruption and incompetence in government, recently manifested in the Bilibid prison luxury scandal, and wonder if the breaking point is not far off.

Survey findings released late last month showed that more than half of the population – 54 percent of Filipinos or 11.4 million households – self-rate themselves as “poor.” Maintaining a household and raising a family are steadily becoming unaffordable.

Existence is now an extreme sport. This is not living; we’re just surviving. ***

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