MANILA - Congress will suspend the fare rate increase implemented Sunday in the Light Rail Transit (LRT 1 and 2) and Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT) systems if the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) fails to justify it at a committee hearing scheduled for Jan. 8, even as protesting commuters took matters into their hands by staging a protest on a moving LRT-2 train early Sunday.
"If there is really a need for us to ask for a deferment, we will do it, we will ask for it," said Catanduanes Rep. Cesar V. Sarmiento.
He said Congress could opt for a full deferment or implementing the fare hike on a staggered basis.
At least two senators on Sunday castigated the DOTC for the new LRT-MRT rates, which are roughly double the previous rates and went into effect 15 days after they were announced while Congress was on a holiday break. The House and the Senate sessions will reopen Monday, Jan. 5.
About 10 members of the militant Strike the Hike consumer group, stylized as #StrikeTheHike, refused to hold on to safety handrails, sit or stay still, all the while taking selfies on a Santolan-bound LRT-2 train, to protest what they said was the "unjust" fare increase.
Holding greeting card-sized thumbs-down signs patterned after Facebook's ubiquitous "like" button, the young protesters first posed for selfies on the platform of the LRT Pureza Station, before boarding a train heading toward Santolan. The group continued to take selfies and even managed to convince a few passengers to pose with them.
Mark Louie Aquino, the Strike the Hike Network spokesman, said the selfie protest was just one of the creative ways the group has thought of to protest against the LRT and MRT fare hike.
"We encourage our fellow Filipinos to create protest actions in any forms. For the selfies, we hope they post them to Facebook with the hashtags #NoToMRTLRTFareHike or #StrikeTheHike," he told reporters.
"We will do more protests on Monday, and seek a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court, and if the government will not listen, we will make more noise," he said.
Aquino said that the fare hikes were "treacherously" implemented after the Christmas holidays to minimise opposition.
"At this time, when there have been many expenses over the holidays, and with 70 per cent of LRT and MRT riders either minimum wage earners or students, this [fare] hike is an awful surprise," he said.
Citing various news reports, he noted that the government itself has said that the additional profits from the increase would not benefit the system.
"In previous years, the government said the increase will go to improvements in the system. But now, (Transportation Secretary Jose Emilio) Abaya himself said that the money from the increased fares would just go back to the private firms involved in running the trains," Aquino said.
Sympathy from passengers
Passengers who agreed to have their selfies taken with the protesters were sympathetic.
"It's okay for me to spend more on LRT fare, but this is just too much," said Aurora Chua, 57, who commutes from Marikina to Binondo to her workplace. "If most of my daily wage goes to my fare, then life will be more difficult for me."
Others seemed more surprised than angry.
"I normally pay P15 (S$0.44) to get from Santolan to Recto, but now, I have to add P10 more," said a 19-year-old female student, who declined to be identified. "The price hike was surprising, but it seems we can't do anything about it."
After getting off at Gilmore Station in San Juan, the group of protesters then crossed the tracks going in the opposite direction, without buying new tickets for the journey.
They repeated this act, highlighting a ripped portion of the protective rubber joint of a part that connected the train wagons.
The antifare hike sentiment spilled over to Twitter, with users such as @maxell_lander tweeting, "LRT, MRT fare hike starts today-What?! This gov't is in the pits, rewarding bad service and corruption by fare hike, shame on you all!"
Another user, who goes by the handle @_ChristianDale_, said, "Long queues, disrupted operations by stalled trains, not functioning escalator and elevator, and filthy toilets, NO to MRT/LRT fare hike!"