LEGAZPI CITY, Nov. 29 (PNA) - Albay Governor Joey Salceda on Monday expressed dismay with the recent Supreme Court (SC) ruling dismissing for lack of merit his petition questioning the authority of the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) to approve the 250-percent toll rate increase in the South Luzon Expressway (SLEx).
In an emailed message, Salceda said the SC ruling "junking my petition over the SLEx toll rate increase would indeed affect in general the economic growth of Bicol particularly Albay whose economic momentum has already started to gain headway".
“My major concern is the P480 million annual net resource outflow siphoned from the Albay economy with annual amount of P82 billion in 2009 which would disrupt our economic growth thus our ability to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) especially the reduction of poverty” he stressed.
Salceda, in raising his concern, said he would urge the SC to compel the national government to find ways to cushion the adverse economic impact of its decision specifically on the welfare of small “viajeros” who depend on Divisoria trade, or fish dealers that rely on Navotas, and the ordinary motorists including students studying in Metro Manila or families visiting their relatives working in Manila.
“I am asking the Supreme Court to direct the National Government to offset such outflows by commensurately increasing its annual flows to Albay by way of higher Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) coverage, tertiary scholarships and support to our only SUC - Bicol University and capital investments in relocation sites and permanent evacuation centers.”
He said “If the justice system is able to compel that, then, the Supreme Court has spoken."
The high court in its November 23 resolution stated “Wherefore, the petition … is hereby dismissed for lack of merit. Accordingly, the TRO (temporary restraining order) issued by the court … with respect to this petition is hereby ordered lifted.”
While dismissing the Salceda petition, the high court did not rule on the immediate implementation of the toll increase.
Instead, the magistrates reiterated their position in the previous ruling on four similar petitions remanding to the TRB the issue of “propriety and reasonableness” of the toll increase in SLEx.
Salceda last June asked the SC to stop the SLEX planned toll fee hike, saying “toll fees should not be increased by mere contract between the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) and its contracting parties through the Supplemental Toll Operation Agreement (STOA). Without notice and hearing, which are mandatory twin requisites of Section 3(d), P.D. 1112 (Toll Operation Decree), the increase in toll fees is null and void for the reason that such action violates a mandatory provision of law.”
With the 250-percent increase, private passenger vehicles would be paying P2.73 per kilometer over the current 82 centavos per kilometer.
Salceda said under PD 1112, the authority of the TRB to enter into contracts, in behalf of the Republic of the Philippines, extends only to construction, operation and maintenance of toll facilities.
“Clearly, the TRB has committed a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it entered into a contract which includes, as part of its contractual provisions, the determination and fixing of toll rates, including its increase, in clear violation of its express and limited authority under PD 1112,” he explained.
Salceda added that such massive increase “will prompt substantial negative consequences in the lives of ordinary citizens of the Bicol region.”(PNA)