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PostSubject: Government set to finalize SLEX rates    Sat Oct 23, 2010 8:56 am

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang and the Supreme Court (SC) agreed yesterday that the toll increase at the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) may now push through.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the Toll Regulatory Board will meet next week to determine the new rates based on public consultation and on their own computation.

“Let us not be too agitated,” he said.

“I know the concerns are there. I know that all of us have fears about the increases and their domino effect but look at what happened to NLEX (North Luzon Expressway).

“There had been big improvements and over time, people saw the benefits. People were willing to accept it. But, at the same time, in the meantime, let’s appeal to the public not to be so rash in their decision.”

On the other hand, SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said the government plan to increase toll may now proceed after the SC affirmed the legality of contracts of SLEX and two other major toll ways in Luzon.

“With the lifting of the temporary restraining order, this ruling is a go-signal for the increase in toll fees,” he said.

“It would be up to the operators to set when the increase will be effective.”

Lacierda said Malacañang will await the SC ruling on the petitions against the imposition of value added tax on toll.

It would be up to President Aquino to push through with the VAT, pending SC resolution, he added.

Lacierda said drivers and operators could file their petitions with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board for fare hikes.

The public should look at the benefits of having well-maintained expressways, he added.

Lacierda said people also objected to toll increases at the North Luzon Expressway.

“But when we saw that the NLEX was good, (people) used it,” he said.

“There are benefits in the long run. As long as people see the visible effects in terms of road service, in terms of convenience, in terms of ease of traffic… we believe that the people are reasonable.”

The SC ruled that toll rates and periodic adjustments in the expressways are “simply predicated on the basic rationale for investing in a toll project” -- a reasonable rate of return for the investment.

“The viability of any infrastructure project depends on the returns – which should be reasonable – of the investment coming from the private sector,” read the SC decision.

“While the interests of the public are ideally to be accorded primacy in considering government contracts, the reality on the ground is that the tollway projects may not at all be possible or would be difficult to realize without the involvement of the investing private sector, which expects its usual share of profit.”

The SC also dismissed as “without adequate factual mooring” allegations and conclusions of the petitions as to the unreasonable increase of the toll rates.

“The use of a tollway is a privilege that comes at a cost,” read the SC decision.

“The toll is a price paid for the use of a privilege. There are to be sure alternative roads and routes, which motorists may fall back on if they are unwilling to pay the toll.

“The toll, as might be expected, is pegged at a level that makes the developmental projects and their maintenance viable; otherwise, no investment can be expected for the furtherance of the projects.”

Salceda: Ruling could have adverse effect

In Albay, Gov. Joey Salceda will ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision allowing a hike in toll at the Southern Luzon Expressway.

The Bicol Regional Development Council (RDC) chairman said the ruling would have an adverse economic impact on the welfare of small and ordinary commuters.

Salceda, a consultant to different international financing institutions, was one of those who opposed before the SC the proposed 277 percent hike in SLEX toll.

“I feel so helpless (with the SC ruling),” he said.

“Where will an ordinary person from the province go for protection? The ruling has long term adverse economic impact on the welfare of our small viajeros that depend on Divisoria trade, our fish dealers that rely on Navotas, our ordinary motorists that include students studying in Metro Manila or families visiting their relatives working there,” he told The STAR through email.

Salceda said affected provinces do not have the means to recover or offset the net resource outflow of at least P480 million annually from the small economic base.

“The ruling magically transforms a Marcosian instrument of economic disruption and social injustice into an act of liberal democratic establishment,” he said.

Salceda said the SLEX is the main artery for trade with Metro Manila, the lifeblood of Bicol.

“Easily, SLEX toll payments will disproportionately account for 8 percent of total fuel expense currently at about P2,800 (Manila-Legazpi using diesel),” he said.

“With air transportation limited and relatively expensive and the Legazpi-Manila Bicol Express unlikely to come full steam by 2015 and the Muntinlupa-Calamba section of the South road under heavy Calabarzon traffic, Bicolanos have no choice but to use the SLEX for their transport requirements.

“We cannot accept the tradeoff between the heavy traffic of the Muntinlupa-Calamba and high cost of SLEX since why do Bicolanos have to singularly pay for the ineffectiveness of DPWH public expenditures?

“The SLEX toll amounts to an unavoidable imposition on our traders, farmers, students who study in NCR, workers in PEZA zones in Cavite, Laguna and on ordinary families who visit their relatives in Quezon City.

“The prohibitive cost is tantamount to a curtailment of trade and our freedom to travel.” The state-sponsored road transport monopoly should be subject to a higher standard of public hearing since it is heavily affected with public interest, he added.

Salceda said the SC cannot rule aside the disruptive effects on fragile countryside economies and the aggravation of an already inequitable distribution of incomes and economic power.

“Considering this, we cannot simply give up - the fight is not yet over,” he said.

“We will work with other groups in filing a motion for reconsideration (for the ruling).”

Philippine Star
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