Award of defunct Pantranco’s franchises to Victory Liner opposedBy Paolo G. Montecillo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The government has awarded nearly 500 bus franchises—formerly owned by the defunct Pantranco North Express Inc.—to the Victory Liner Group, a move that is feared to result in a “monopoly” in Northern and Central Luzon.
Five bus companies servicing the North and Central Luzon routes have asked Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas to reverse a Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) decision giving the Hernandez family, which controls several bus companies, hundreds of new franchises for routes in Central and Northern Luzon.
“Never in the history of public service law has there been a wholesale grant of 489 units in a single decision to one bus-owning family,” bus operators GV Florida Lines, Dagupan Bus Lines, Saulog Transit, Partas and Baliwag Transit said in a letter to Roxas.
In the same letter, the bus operators urged Roxas to investigate “the hasty and illegal award of the long-dead franchises of Pantranco to members of the Hernandez family.”
Pantranco used to own the 489 bus franchises in question. However, the bus operators said, these bus franchises expired in 1993 after the bus company’s collapse and were later declared “dead” by the LTFRB.
“The DOTC and LTFRB had consistently ruled over the past 20 years that the lines of the long-defunct Pantraco had expired. The award would wreak havoc on the franchising rules of the Public Service Law,” they claimed.
The five complaining companies said that in January this year, LTFRB officials had testified before Congress that the franchises in question could and would no longer be revived.
However, in a decision in March, the LTFRB—acting on orders from the Court of Appeals and the Department of Transportation and Communications—granted the said franchises to the Pantranco Retrenched Employees Association (Panrea) and the Pantranco Employees Association (PEA).
The two workers’ groups that claimed the franchises, in lieu of their unpaid retirement benefits, subsequently sold them to the Hernandez family.
The Hernandez family controls Victory Liner, Pangasinan Five Star, Bataan Transit, First North Luzon Bus Co. and Luzon Cisco Transport.
The five complaining companies criticized the LTFRB, saying that its decision would give the Hernandez group a virtual monopoly of the lucrative Northern and Central Luzon bus routes.
“Even the most corrupt schemers under the previous administration dared not resurrect the dead franchises… because there was barely any legal cover for reviving certificates of public convenience that had already expired,” the bus companies said in the letter to Roxas.
LTFRB board member Manuel Iway, however, said the agency did not err in its decision, stressing that the Pantranco franchises never expired. “Pantranco’s management filed for an extension of the validity of their franchises before the company closed down,” Iway said.
“The extension was never acted on by the previous boards. But now, we are just complying with the Court of Appeal’s order. How could we have known that the workers would sell the franchises to Victory Liner?” Iway added.
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