Money down the train
The Aquino (Part II) administration just sprung an ambush on the nation by jacking up the fares of all the three light rail lines in Metro Manila, in fact almost doubling the fares.
By doing so, perhaps the administration also provoked the public to action, angered as the people were over the sad state of the light rail system, and the public transportation in general.
All of a sudden, right after the long Christmas holidays, we saw picket lines at the MRT (Edsa Line) train stations. At least two groups filed cases before the Supreme Court to contest the fare increase. The public anger was evident in all media coverage of the controversial fare increase. (On radio program “Karambola,” which runs from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. over DWIZ, 882 khz on your AM dial, the biggest issue in the past three days was precisely the fare increase. By the way, the station took yours truly as one of the three hosts of the program).
All this noise over all this trouble had to do with the three light rail lines in Metro Manila—yes, only three lines, despite the estimated 12 million residents in the metropolis.
Come to think of it, the train system in Metro Manila was really insignificant, almost nothing in number and area coverage, taken alongside the much bigger train systems in some less populous urban centers in the world.
We would expect that the insignificant size of the Metro Manila train system should have made it manageable, right? Well, as it turned out, the trouble in the system was mismanagement.
Let us first distinguish between, on the one hand, the LRT lines (Line 1 on Taft Avenue and Line 2 on Aurora Boulevard) and, on the other, the MRT line (Edsa), because the LRT lines were under the LRTA (Light Rail Transit Authority), while MRT was under the Department of Transportation and Communications.
(The need for separate entities to manage and operate the three lines should be an anomaly in itself. Former LRTA Administrator Mel Robles, during whose term the LRTA was able to complete the “loop” project on Edsa between Monumento (Caloocan) and North Avenue (Quezon City) in less than a year, has been pushing for the unification of all the light rail systems in the metropolis under one management. The move would lead to economies of scale, eliminating redundancy in costly executive positions while realizing savings in the acquisition of spare parts and maintenance work.
Moreover, the LRTA has in its charter the power to adjust fares by itself, unlike the DOTC, which has no authority in setting the fares. And did anybody listen to him?)
Anyway, it seemed that the real object of public dismay was the poor service on the MRT line for the past couple of years: overcrowded cars, ill-maintained rails and long lines at the stations.
In defending the fare increases for all three lines, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya seemed to explain only the problems besetting the MRT line.
It therefore seemed that the two LRT lines only got dragged into the mess over the MRT line. For example, Abaya himself noted that the biggest problem in the MRT line was the set-up, with a private company owning the train line and the government, through the DOTC, operating it.
All along, the more than 500,000 suffering commuters of the MRT line thought the whole problem had something to do with maintenance, or the lack of it.
Why were the trains breaking down? Poor maintenance. Why were there not enough cars, because the railway could not handle heavier load? Poor maintenance. Why were the trains too slow by world standard? Poor maintenance.
Yet, the job of maintaining the system did not belong to the private company that owned it, because it belonged to the DOTC.
The DOTC itself complained that the MRT rail tracks needed replacement as early as 2008. What happened between 2008 and 2015? Well, the DOTC as operator of the MRT did nothing.
What happened in the MRT operation during the past four years under our leader Benigno Simeon (a.k.a. BS) was that the DOTC took away the maintenance contract from the highly experienced group Sumitomo of Japan. Then, somebody in the administration gave the hundreds of millions of pesos worth of maintenance contract to an unknown company with dubious background in the railway business. The Aquino (Part II) administration could have done an immeasurable public service by just rationalizing the light rail systems in the metropolis, starting off with giving the maintenance and operations of the MRT to the experts in LRTA—and not the lawyers in DOTC.
* * *
Some shareholders of listed Alliance Select Foods International, apparently disgruntled, reportedly objected to the recent appointment of Raymond See as president and CEO as part of its reorganization early in December last year.
From what I gathered, only two Singapore-based shareholders were actually caught in a fight with the majority owners of the company, and in their obvious media campaign, they called for an “independent interim management committee made of experts in the company’s business with a background in finance.”
The reports came out just last week, or a good one month after the Alliance Select board held its meeting to effect the management reorganization. The timing of the media attacks thus seemed suspect. You know—were they really just out to damage the reputation of the public company?
Even the stock market could notice that whoever were behind the news reports had waited until after the Christmas holidays to wage the anti-Raymond See campaign. That is for more media mileage after the holidays.
The truth was that nothing could prevent any stockholder of any company from registering their sentiments about the appointment of a new company president directly with the board.
Again—the appointment of Raymond See was made four weeks ago.
By implication, when the Singaporeans attacked the decision of the company to appoint See, they were also attacking his reputation. It was implied that See was not independent. Okay—who would be “independent,” the choice of the Singaporean stockholders? Really?
To be sure, Raymond See is an experienced executive. Believe me, he is no slouch. In fact, Alliance Select hired a headhunter that recommended See, who had more than 20 years of management experience in a global company called Shell.
In other words, you can be sure that if Alliance Select needs any improvement in its operations and finances, See will detect it and address it rather competently. For it is folly to believe that only disgruntled minority shareholders can ever have the right solutions to the problems besetting any company.