Transport groups appeal: Suspend 50% fuel tax, 'libreng sakay' hurting drivers

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 8) — A transport group is negotiating for at least a partial suspension of the excise tax on fuel as public utility drivers continue to endure higher oil prices amid the pandemic.

Ricardo "Boy" Rebaño, Federation of Jeepney Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines (FEJODAP) national president, told CNN Philippines' The Source on Tuesday that the transport sector would still greatly benefit even from at least a 50% excise tax cut from petroleum products, pending their appeal for a provisional increase in jeepney fare.

"Hindi naman namin hinihingi ang 100% na pangsamantalang itigil. Kahit 50% doon sa excise tax, basta't magbebenepisyo itong nasa transport sector, siguro pag-aralan nilang mabuti," Rebaño said.

[Translation: We are not asking that the government suspend the excise tax by 100%. Even with just 50% of it, as long as the transport sector would still benefit, I hope they can reconsider.]

He said that while he understands that this could affect the government's allocation for its other programs, the transport sector also needs immediate assistance.

Rebaño acknowledged that holding transport strikes from time to time would only burden commuters. But some of his colleagues have already stopped plying their routes because they do not have enough take-home pay to feed their families.

"Sa hanay ng FEJODAP, maraming huminto pansamantala dahil hindi na po talaga nila kakayanin, naghahanap sila ng panibagong pagkakakitaan para naman mabuhay ang kanilang pamilya," he said.

[Translation: In FEJODAP, a lot of the drivers have temporarily stopped plying routes because they really could not afford the rising fuel prices, they are already looking for other sources of livelihood so their family can survive.]

He added that granting a provisional ₱1 fare increase already gives an ordinary jeepney driver around ₱300 a day, enough to at least buy additional fuel for their daily ride. The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, however, has yet to approve this petition.

Bangko Sentel ng Pilipinas Gov. Ben Diokno, the incoming finance secretary, previously told The Source that the administration of president-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. is not looking at suspending fuel excise taxes, but he acknowledges the need to fast-track the distribution of assistance to drivers who are bearing the brunt of soaring oil prices.

'Libreng sakay' hurting drivers

Meanwile, Manibela Chairman Mar Valbuena called on the government to study its service contracting program, which he said has been hurting PUV drivers who are badly in need of income.

"Nakasakay na sa amin ang pasahero, 'pag may dumaang libreng sakay, bababa, doon sila lilipat. Pinapatay yung aming hanapbuhay," Valbuena explained.

[Translation: The passenger is already with us, but when a 'libreng sakay' unit passes by, he will transfer there. The program is killing our livelihood.]

Under the service contracting program, the government compensates some public utility vehicle operators and drivers for the free rides to commuters based on the number of kilometers traveled per week, whether they have passengers or not.

Various companies have imposed another ₱2.70 increase per liter for gasoline, ₱6.55 per liter for diesel, and ₱5.45 for kerosene effective June 7.

LTFRB Executive Director Tina Cassion said the board is already tackling the reimposition of a ₱10 minimum fare, and will issue a decision within the week. The first tranche of its fuel subsidy program which grants ₱6,500 to accredited drivers and operators will also soon be completed, and the next round will likely start by first week of July.

RELATED: LTFRB: 1st part of aid distribution nearly complete, decision on ₱1 fare hike out this week