POSTSCRIPT / March 2, 2004 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Phasing out stinking jeepneys, made easy

BLACKMAIL: Can you imagine the public utility Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) shutting down its distribution lines to pressure government to approve its request for higher electricity rates?

That scenario is preposterous and Meralco will not do that, yet that was more or less what jeepney drivers did yesterday when they went on strike to press their demand for another increase in fare.

Both the Meralco and jeepney operators hold franchises to operate public utilities. They cannot just stop operations to blackmail the government and consumers/commuters to accede to their demands.

The authorities should file charges against jeepney drivers and operators who joined the strike and did other illegal acts. The proper regulatory agencies should also look for an excuse to cancel their franchises after due process.

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WRONG APPROACH: Actually the jeepney, a refurbished relic of the last world war, has no place in the thoroughfares of the nation’s capital in this day and age.

Whatever progress Metro Manila could achieve, the metropolis would still not look progressive with jeepneys still rambling along in the streets. Clearly, these eyesores must be phased out soonest.

The problem is that the approach being used to carry out a phaseout is based on decree or order, and coercion.

We first have to recognize that whatever we think of the jeepney, it actually fills a need in a metropolis in search of an efficient mass transport system.

Note that whenever there is a jeepney strike or a proposal to relegate jeepneys to secondary routes or to the provinces, the question invariably asked is “But what will commuters ride?”

This is no idle question. It raises a very real problem.

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INVERT THE PROCESS: Banning jeepneys from key thoroughfares without first bringing in a better substitute is obviously not a solution. In fact, it recreates the same problem that saw the birth of jeepneys in the first place.

What we can do is invert the order of the phaseout process.

First, we bring in more efficient and more commuter-friendly modes of mass transport. Once these alternatives are in place, the jeepneys will die a natural death. Competition will see to that as market forces come into play.

Given a choice between dilapidated jeepneys and cleaner, air-conditioned and more efficient public carriers, commuters will surely choose the latter — leading to the jeepneys’ being forced out of business.

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SEEKING ALTERNATIVES: We have seen this happen in the introduction years ago of brand-new air-conditioned taxicabs that at first were thought to be more expensive to maintain and more costly for passengers.

It turned out that passengers shunned the old battered taxicabs and chose the new air-conditioned models even if they had to pay slightly higher fare.

Another illustration is the emergence of an air-conditioned variation of the jeepney, the so-called Tamaraw-type mega-taxi. This vehicle takes several passengers riding together along the same route and whose sharing the cost lowers the individual fare.

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WILLING TO PAY: This illustrates a point we often highlight in POSTSCRIPT — that Filipinos are willing to pay a little extra if offered something better.

We can use the same principle in carrying out a non-confrontational phaseout of the jeepney. Quietly bring in a better alternative to the jeepney and that relic of a bygone era will vanish from the metropolis without disrupting public transport.

Given this business idea and offered incentives, more entrepreneurs are likely to venture into the transport business, considering that there is a big market waiting.

This is another area where government and private enterprise can cooperate in finding a solution to a public problem with the latter making money in the process.

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CONTEMPT OF COURT: Some officials of the Commission on Elections are again talking of “testing” the ballot-counting equipment it acquired under a contract that the Supreme Court had struck down as illegal.

It would be contempt of the Court for the Comelec to proceed with this plan to use the Korean ballot counting machines in various electoral “tests.”

There is no good reason to “test” the equipment since the high court has already nullified Comelec’s contract with the supplier, a so-called Mega Pacific consortium that was never a bidder.

With the contract being void from the start, there was no deal.

The government should just get back its money, return the counting machines and stop tinkering with, or “testing,” them. Those still in boxes should be left alone and returned right away.

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NO BASIS FOR TEST: Some Comelec officials said they were negotiating with Mega Pacific to allow them to “test” the equipment in preparation for using them, for free, in a partial computerization of the May elections.

Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos once told us that they could not return the machines because they had been used already in testing and demonstrations.

But under normal audit procedures in government, equipment being delivered must be tested first. The testing does not render the equipment “used.” We assume Abalos, a veteran in government, knows this.

Now if the Comelec plans to “test” the rest of the machines, Abalos might find himself accused of laying the basis for keeping all the equipment by arguing that they had been “used.”

In the first place, there is no basis for “testing” the equipment because there is no valid contract to acquire and use them. What the Comelec was trying to pass off as the contract had been nullified by the Supreme Court.

Comelec officials may just be aggravating their criminal liabilities by insisting on “testing” the machines.

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COMPUTERIZATION, YES: We want to make it clear that we are for the computerization of the entire electoral process. Using objective high-tech machines will help in no small way in reducing cheating.

This nation known for its dirty and violent politics cannot wallow forever in its mano-mano system of manually preparing ballots, counting the votes by hand and physically forwarding the results from the precincts all the way to the national capital by messenger.

But the computerization must be carried out in accordance with law. The Comelec must not insist on a contract that the Supreme Court has rejected with finality. Pardon our saying it, but such tenacity raises suspicions.

The poll body should explore other ways for carrying out its mandate. Many avenues would open up that are technically and legally viable, if only the commissioners would put an end to their illicit love affair with Mega Pacific.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 2, 2004)

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