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    Dear Metro Manilans: Don’t be greedy

I was in high school when the government started building the Light Rail Transit (LRT) along Rizal Avenue. Traffic was already bad in Manila back then, so the Marcos administration (yes, that’s how long ago it was when I was in high school) had the grand idea of building an overhead train system that would run from Monumento in Caloocan City (where my school was located) in the north all the way to Baclaran in the south.

The promise of a 20-minute travel time from the two end points was nothing short of glorious, but waiting for that promise to be fulfilled proved a little taxing. The construction took a few years to complete, and in the interim, traffic along Rizal Avenue grew from bad to worse to almost unbearable. There was also the constant concern that some construction material from up above would fall to the road below, and I remember always looking up before crossing Rizal Avenue for fear that I would be hit by a bag of cement or something.

But for all the inconveniences the construction phase brought on us for a few years, the comfort and speed that the LRT gave to commuters once it was completed were worth the wait. I sometimes went with my mother to Baclaran church on Wednesdays during vacation, and I knew how long the trip took by bus. With the LRT, it took less than half an hour, and even if we had to stand the whole time we didn’t get tired.

Also, the view never grew old for me: I always enjoyed looking at the city from a different vantage point, and it was refreshing to see that, viewed from a few feet above, Metro Manila could be beautiful, too. Only from that height could one see the trees that still grew in the concrete jungle. LRT rides were always an enjoyable experience for me.

I was blissfully unaware, however, that the convenience we were enjoying in Manila was being experienced at the expense of those living elsewhere. I was already living in Davao City (I moved here in 1990) when I learned that the government has been subsidizing each LRT passenger, which explained the very low fare. Later on when the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) was built, cutting through EDSA from West Avenue to Taft Avenue, the government subsidy was pegged at P48 per commuter. For the riders, that means a huge load off their wallets, but it also means that, since it is the government paying the lion’s share of the fare, all Filipinos are pitching in, even those who aren’t living in Manila and so are not able to enjoy the service.

Now P48 may not seem much, but when you consider that an average of 420,000 to 430,000 persons ride the LRT and MRT per day, that adds up to a huge amount – up to P20.64 million a day, or P619.2 million a month. And all of it benefits only a small percentage of the Philippine population, the same people who already have good roads, nice bridges, big flyovers, and all the other perks of living in the National Capital Region. Meanwhile, we in the regions are left with bad roads, bridges that take forever to repair when they collapse and a smattering of flyovers. Worse, we get to pay for the NCR denizens’ perks and precious little is left for our own infrastructure.

So when President Noynoy Aquino announced that he intends to cut the subsidy to the LRT and MRT, it was met by rejoicing by those not living in Metro Manila. It meant that there would be more money to pay for roads and bridges and, yes, perhaps even trains in the regions. More importantly, it meant that the taxes they paid would not be used to subsidize the train fare of the lucky few who live in the capital but would be utilized for their benefit.

And it goes without saying that we in the regions do not appreciate the knee-jerk reaction of Metro Manilans protesting the removal of the subsidy. This message on Facebook says it all:

Dear Metro Manilans: Please don’t protest the increase in MRT and LRT fares. We in the regions have been subsidizing your trips long enough. We deserve similar services, but we can’t get them for as long as the government pays your train fare. If the subsidy is removed, there will be money to pay for development outside Metro Manila. Don’t be greedy; we just want our money to be used for our benefit.

Enough said.

Jon Joaquin is the managing editor of the largest circulation newspaper in Mindanao, the Mindanao Daily Mirror in Davao City.

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