By Minka Tiangco
Officials of motorcycle ride-hailing firm Angkas urged Congress and the Senate to conduct investigation on allegedly suspicious practices done by the technical working group (TWG) of the Land Transportation Regulatory and Franchising Board (LTFRB) that oversees motorcycle taxis.
In a press conference on Sunday, Angkas Chief Transport Advocate George Royeca said he began to suspect irregularities in the TWG after LTFRB capped Angkas’ number of riders to 10,000 that would effectively leave 17,000 of its riders jobless next year.
The TWG recommended that a total of 39,000 registered riders be split evenly and allocated to Angkas and two new players, JoyRide and Move It, during the extension of the Angkas’ pilot run from December 23, 2019 to March 23, 2020.
Each transport network company will be allowed 10,000 riders for Metro Manila, and 3,000 riders for Metro Cebu.
TWG Chairman and LTFRB Board Member Antonio Gardiola, Jr. said those who will be laid off from Angkas can be absorbed by the two other operators.
But Royeca said their riders should not be made to switch companies against their will, and the number of riders should not be limited, considering the high demand of the service they offer.
“To force our bikers to leave Angkas by way of regulation is anti-competition. This is not regulation. This is corruption,” he said.
The Angkas official also said the TWG was seemingly rushing to allocate riders to the new operators who have not proven their experience and skill on the road.
“It took us three years to build up the infrastructure to monitor 27,000 riders. Ang gusto nila, paspasin at ibigay ang 10,000 (riders to other operators) in three months (What they want is for us to rush and give 10,000 riders to other operators in three months),” he said.
“We welcome competition, but not at the expense of commuters’ safety,” he added.
Royeca also questioned why other stakeholders, such as the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Senate, and Congress, were excluded from the TWG, and why their findings were not publicized.
The TWG is composed of members from the LTFRB, Department of Transportation, Land Transportation Office, and Inter-Agency Council for Traffic.
Royeca also denied the TWG’s claim that Angkas was “amenable” to the new guidelines.
“For the advanced guidelines, I said no,” he said. “The next day, they presented the same guidelines to us, and I just kept quiet… Don’t take my silence in the TWG as agreement, I already expressed my disagreement.”
Royeca said Angkas filed an appeal with the TWG on Friday. In it, he said the number of riders offering “habal-habal” service may increase due to the limited number of Angkas riders, should the cap be implemented.
“People will switch back to habal-habal as demand far outstrips supply,” Royeca said in their appeal. “Habal-habal is unmonitored, uninsured, and lack proper gear and training. Every Angkas ride that becomes habal-habal increases the risk of commuters accidents and fatalities,” he warned.
Royeca also said that they made several proposals to the TWG to bolster the safety and security of the motorcycle-riding public, including having emergency response teams, building a network of partner hospitals and doctors, and setting up insurance funds, but these were all reportedly ignored.
A day after Angkas announced that they are being forced to trim their fleet, thousands of riders flocked to the EDSA Kalayaan Shrine in Quezon City to peacefully protest the TWG’s ruling.
Mark Gil Capilitan, who became an Angkas rider this year, said that with his wife pregnant with their fourth child, he and his family will be severely affected should he be laid off from Angkas.
Meanwhile, Mark Jason Alagao said he cannot afford to lose his job as he was taking care of his one-month-old child.
Both riders were at a party when they heard news that Angkas will be forced to lay off riders. They, along with a group of other riders, came to the EDSA Kalayaan Shrine as early as 12 a.m. to show their support to their company.
“Gusto ko po, kung saan ako nag-tanim, doon din ako aani (I want to harvest the fruits of my labor where I originally planted),” Alagao said.
Should the LTFRB push through with putting a cap on Angkas’ number of riders, the Passenger Forum (TPF) appealed to the agency to require other operators to absorb those who will be laid off from Angkas to better secure their livelihood.
“We are hoping that the LTFRB will consider the livelihood of the drivers and the effect of this decision to their families. If they are really hell-bent on putting a had cap on Angkas, at least do something for the riders who will be severely affected,” TPF Convenor Primo Morillo said in a statement.
“Solving the problem of the 17,000 riders under threat of displacement is within the interest of the riding public. We hope the LTFRB will act quickly as the safety of the commuters is at stake here,” he added.
Labor group Defend Job Philippines aired their support for Angkas and called the government’s ruling “anti-rider” and “anti-commuter.”
“We hope that our government will not victimize the thousands of Angkas drivers and their families over again. It must be noted that the worsening unemployment crisis in the country and the negligence of the State to provide employment to its people drove these bikers to get into the transport industry,” Defend Job Philippines Spokesman Christian Lloyd Magsoy said in a statement.
“While these drivers are taking up the challenge of giving service to the riding public and find ways of how can they be productive in providing the needs of their families, this LTFRB’s insensitive decision will never be acceptable and is indeed condemnable,” he added.
Senator Imee Marcos, who made a brief appearance at the event, asked Angkas riders to support Senate Bill 408, an act “recognizing motorcycles as public utility vehicles,” that she filed on July.
The unity gathering ended with Angkas riders leaving by twos, traversing the motorcycle lane along EDSA, taking turns at East Avenue and Quezon City Circle, and dispersing at North Avenue.