Esguerra: You conducted a meeting two days ago. This problem confronting Uber, as regular passengers have been complaining about, it seems that there is an impression that the government, as a regulator, does not actually know how to regulate this particular industry and that explains the different, somehow conflicting or contradicting approaches to the problem.
Poe: Admittedly, the government, even us in the legislature, we're playing catch up with technology. On the other hand, we've also seen both the bad and ill effects, as well as the advantages of new technology. What we had wasn't really a hearing, in the closed-door meeting with Uber and LTFRB, our goal was to find a conciliatory solution to the problem that faces not just Uber but especially the passengers.
Esguerra: Let's talk about the reasonability of the suspension--one month--is that reasonable? Does it encompass the gravity of what Uber supposedly did?
Poe: Let me make this clear, Uber did commit a violation and they need to be taught a lesson they will not soon forget. But we also have to consider that we need to do this within the confines of the law and then also consider the ones that will have, the victims in all of these--the passengers as well as the drivers. So when we had this meeting, we discussed that LTFRB has every right to suspend them but also in Executive Order 202, they also have the right to fine them. So it could be a suspension or it could also be a fine. We were trying to find a middle ground, that will not be harming our drivers so much, as well as the passengers.
Esguerra: But is it clear in that order, which particular violation would merit a fine or a suspension?
Poe: Yes, of course. LTFRB issued a memorandum circular saying that you have to stop accepting applications on the 26th of July, and admittedly, Uber said that they continued accepting applications but they did not activate. See they were also playing with words, the semantics, and I think they were obviously skirting the law because they said, 'we accepted them, we put active in their account, but they were not activated.' You see they were not also forthright in dealing with the government, so definitely they need to be punished, but since figures are already being mentioned, also by my colleague--
Esguerra: Yes, the P10 million offer.
Poe: Initially, Sen. JV said P30 million, no, it's P10 million being offered to the LTFRB for the damages, for the violation, which will not really stay with the LTFRB. Chairman Delgra clarified that it will go to the National Treasury but what people don't really know is that this could be multiplied 10 times what Uber is willing to pay the drivers that were inconvenienced by their violation.
Esguerra: Which is how much?
Poe: You try to multiply that, they said they have about 66,000 drivers, then they will have to do the algorithm and the formula for this, based on how active you are. I know somebody who is an Uber driver who already received, well, it's a paltry amount because he hardly drives, something like a P100 per day for lost wages, but others can receive as much as P1,200 a day, depending on how active they are. It will equate, when we were computing, of course it will depend on what they will actually write in their pleading, to more than a hundred million.
This is not just about money, and I agree, but what we're trying to do here is to mitigate the situation. People are inconvenienced, we have alternatives but they're not necessarily always reliable. We have our train system, we have taxis as well, but we also have to consider the drivers who will lose wages during those times. As a senator, our job is oversight, so we try to find a middle ground that will have a less harmful impact on the victims.
Esguerra: What do you think would be a middle ground?
Poe: We don't know yet what the LTFRB will accept, and we respect them, they are going to have their hearing on Wednesday. That's the only time they will accept whatever offer Uber has to present to them. But what I'm saying now is this, we have to consider also, yung mga trains natin nasisira halos araw-araw. Yung mga taxi drivers natin bagama't gusto nilang makipagkompetensya, napakababa ng flag-down rate nila.
So natural, kung yung Uber at yung Grab merong price adjustments; sila wala. So how can they provide better service? And then, the convenience, I mean this is a free market, so the passenger is able to determine, will I accept this amount or not? Am I willing to take the risk to ride with an Uber driver who is not necessarily accredited the same way as a taxi driver. Their insurance is not very clear in the government. Do they have professional or non-professional driver's license? These things are risks that are accepted by the passenger, but of course we have to help the passengers because sometimes they are also not informed.
Esguerra: Just to be clear, Uber might end up spending more, or at least to spend more than a P100 million for this entire mess.
Poe: They were making a rough estimate at that time. But if you consider this, you have 66,000 drivers, in fact the LTFRB is saying that there's more than that, there's about 74,000. So if you say that there's more than that, there's about 74,000. So if you say that, and you have to compensate them, even at just a hundred pesos per day for those that don't drive full-time, and about P1200 for those who drive full-time, that's a lot of money.
Esguerra: Now let's talk about the two sides in this particular story. On one hand, the LTFRB is getting a lot of flak coming from users of Uber or passengers because they think Uber offers better services yet they're trying to zero in on certain violations allegedly, and there's this impression that perhaps regulators don't actually know what they're doing.
Poe: Well, yes...You know, I also sympathize with the LTFRB, and sometimes I also feel that I lose my cool--in government, it's so frustrating--the process is the one that hampers the quick resolution. But of course Uber is at fault, I mean, sabihin na natin ito, they're a business and we have to remind them--don't get too greedy. The fact that they accepted applications after they were already told to stop accepting, points...that they didn't come into this in good faith. So all of a sudden, in the meeting that we had, they were very humble already because they're already feeling the weight of the law. And they should. I really think that if it hurts their bottom line somehow, if they have to pay a huge fine, sinong magbebenepisyo? Driver rin di ba? Driver na tatanggap ng pera na iyan--bagama't maliit, at least, may matatanggap. At mga pasahero--na kung iiklian natin...dahil nga sa kakulangan ng mapipiling masasakyan, mayroon pa ring nandoon, pero ito ang mas mahaba na dapat nating pagdiskusyunan--ano ba dapat ang batas diyan?
Esguerra: Have you actually prepared the draft or we're still in the level of the technical working group?
Poe: We're in the level of the technical working group because there are many concerns that need to be analyzed here. First of all, LTFRB, this has been your problem since June of 2016 when you assumed office, please define ride-sharing. Should it be an owner-driven car? Di ba at first we welcomed the concept of this because our OFWs had come back, our senior citizens who can still drive and who are strong, they can do that, they own their own time, they can decide when to do it or not. May extra income sila or meron silang main income. Pero makakabawas din siguro sa traffic if its owner-driven. But the spirit of that is lost already because we've heard, and Grab and Uber both admitted that there are some owners with as many as 40 cars, that's a fleet already. Naturally, kung ikaw ang taxi owner-operator-driver maiinis ka kasi bakit ang regulation nila iba, samantalang puwede rin silang magkaroon ng multiple cars. So in our law we will define ride-sharing--if it's to be one or two cars at the most, perhaps, so that talagang makakabawas sa traffic pero makakatulong sa mga pasahero.
Esguerra: Now going by that particular number of units I'm not sure whether this is still the rule but before, I remember there was a regulation that allowed a single owner, for example, to simply have one unit of taxi and you can actually operate it.
Poe: I think it depends if you're going to register as a taxi-owner-driver then I guess, one, right? At that time that's the spirit of it. But of course you have taxi companies now that are huge with more than a hundred taxis under their incorporation and then now Uber and Grab are coming in with the same set-up? I don't think that's fair.
Esguerra: How about the screening of drivers? Do you think that is also a very valid concern? Because so far if you go by the experiences of people, they enjoy taking Uber or Grab but of course eventually you might encounter certain problems with drivers. How important is it for that particular law that you're preparing to actually focus on screening drivers?
Poe: This is what I think, the private sector, when you give them a responsibility, and especially they have to think of profitability, and also trying to make sure they don't have any violation, they can be efficient in screening, if it's a reputable company. Drug tests, insurance, for example, they will actually lessen the burden on the government if they do the pre-screening; they also have to be responsible. If the government finds out that the papers they are submitting are falsified, for example, or the drivers didn't go through proper screening, that company can be immediately suspended. Ngayon nakikita naman natin ang mga pumupunta halimbawa sa LTO, kumukuha ng lisensya, nalaman natin may mga kodigo pala sa dingding, hindi naman nila talaga alam yung rules ng sa sasakyan. Hindi naman natin masasabi na ang gobyerno rin ay efficient sa pag-screen, pero kung ang government ay matibay talaga sa pag-iimpose ng batas at sabihin dito sa mga kumpanya na mga to, 'sige, pag nalusutan kayo ng driver na adik, pag nalusutan kayo ng driver na wala naman talagang insurance--suspended, let's say, ilang fleets ninyo, or meron kayong fine na P1 million'--aba, manginginig yan, matatakot yan, lalung lalo na kung meron talaga silang corporate structure that somebody will be accountable.
Esguerra: This projected amount of more than P100 million, do you think this will be enough to teach Uber and other ride-sharing services a lesson?
Poe: As I've said, LTFRB has every right to decide what it is, but what I'm saying is that even in Executive Order 202, it says a penalty of a fine can be determined. So I think a hundred million is a lot money, nothing is written in stone now until they submit that offer. Is it enough money? Let's put it this way, Uber makes about P5 million a day, they said, from their drivers, how much is that? P5 million times 30 days, that's about P150 million.
Esguerra: That's no pittance, definitely.
Poe: That's more than how many percent of what they're earning in a year. That's about maybe 5 percent or more, so it's more than a slap on the wrist. But since this very new, it should also send a signal to the others. We're being compassionate now and LTFRB, with their arbitrary rules, they can decide on a whim and say 'we can actually cancel this,' but they know there's a clamor, there's a need for that service.
Esguerra: Yes, that's the other thing, it seems that there are certain arbitrariness in the approach, that there's certain adjustments along the way depending on what particular issue comes up.
Poe: Right, this is what I am saying that's why legislation is very important; also, that we need to know really what the need is. Kasi it's so vague, they have the right to investigate and to conduct hearings, to impose fines or they can even cancel so it depends but what does one month equate in terms of violation? That's why my role as a legislator also, as a representative of the people is to have some sort of middle ground, soft landing also because there are victims here. Yung drivers na mawawalan ng kita, yung mga pasahero na mawawalan ng pagpipilian--hindi ko naman sinasabing mawawalan ng sasakyan nandyan naman ang Grab--but the option should be there in our market. I'd also like to say this Christian, during our hearing, sabi ko alam mo hindi natin dapat kalimutan yung mga taxi drivers dito. Galit tayo sa kanila kasi pumipili sila ng sino ang isasakay nila, sinong ibababa nila at saan pero walong taon na hindi pa dinedesisyunan ang flag-down rate. Hanggang ngayon 40 pesos pa rin ang flag-down rate, how can they compete with Grab and Uber. So, LTFRB, I hope you already decide on that matter.
Esguerra: Just to be clear, this piece of legislation that you're trying to prepare will cover only ride-sharing services or it also tackles issues confronting the LTFRB in terms of clarity and regulation?
Poe: Both, but pertaining to the ride-sharing services, the TNVS and the TNCs. Part of the regulation will also be--LTFRB, you have to invest in a study to determine how much can our roads take. Kasi hanggang ngayon, okay, 66,000 ang naka-register...
Esguerra: There's no ceiling so far?
Poe: Wala e. Ang sinasabi nila stop accepting, but what's the ceiling?
Esguerra: We don't know how many
Poe: Right now the only ones with the Certificate of Public Convenience, meaning talagang may permit to operate are about 3,500 Uber cars out of 66,000 and even 74,000 if you go by the figures of LTFRB. So kolorum ang remaining; 10,000 have a provisional authority to operate or may pending pa rin sila. So Christian, lahat 'yan kolorum ngayon 'pag sinabi mo, 'ba't niyo pinapayagan, kolorum ng Uber?' Papaano ang Uber--makikita mo kung sino ang kolorum kasi nandun sa app. Yung mga taxi, jeep at bus na libo rin ang kolorum na hindi mo madedetermina kasi wala naman silang app. Kaya the imposition of a penalty is immediate in these companies that have an app that's the advantage kasi makikita mo talaga dahil pag 'yan active 'yan, alam mo pahiyang-pahiya dito ang Uber ha kasi nakita nila na ang ni-register na sasakyan ang may ari pala ay LTFRB di ba so buko talaga sila.
Esguerra: Before I let you go, Senator I'd like to ask you another very important issue. The recent drugs sweep in Bulacan and in Manila, of course that raises a lot of concerns, in Bulacan I think 32 persons dead within 24 hours and in Manila, at least 25 people.
Poe: I've always voiced out my concern about killings like this. Even former President FVR said, the police are trained to apprehend and also to stop, for example, somebody who will resist arrest. They are trained for that, without having to resort to killing them. So iyong mga pulis natin, we'd like to think that they are properly trained, na iko-contain lang nila ang sitwasyon o pipigilan lang nila na hindi naman kailangang barilin agad. Pero ito na lang ang isipin natin, kailangan talaga na fair and impartial ang investigation, kasi ang mga pulis, may karapatan na depensahan ang sarili nila, pero, mayroon din silang training na dapat hindi naman kaagad baril. Kailangan malaman natin kung ano ba talaga ang nangyari. Kasi hindi naman natin puwedeng solusyunan--we cannot solve one crime by committing another because it will just keep escalating. So, we'd like to see an impartial investigation not just in the Senate but also in our other institutions and we should all take active part in that and not take this for granted.
Esguerra: Are you looking into the possibility of inquiring to these killings at the Senate?
Poe: As vice-chair of the committee on public order and I know that Senator Ping has been impartial, I think that it will also help to allay the fears of the public, as they also look up to the Senate. Because the Senate can ask any questions right there in the public, and the public can hear it and I think it will be constructive to have one.
Esguerra: Okay, just to see what really happened?
Poe: Just to see what really happened, then you can see, you know the Senate came out with a strong objection to the operation that Supt. Marcos committed at that time. And the recommendation was really for him to be dismissed, but of course that wasn't followed.
Esguerra: Finally, I would like to hear your thoughts on the President's comments. First, there was the admission that he can't solve the drug problem within this administration. That much was made clear but after that there was this wave of police operations suddenly and then the President, again, reiterated this statement that he would back up policemen who are just simply doing their responsibilities or duties.
Poe: Well, if you're really backing them up because they are genuinely doing their jobs...then that means it should be in accordance with the law. But, they should be able to restrain, that's part of their training. Another thing is his admission, I guess reality is setting in; that's also what we've been very candid about...crime is not easily solved; there are many factors that affect this, it's not just law enforcement, its community, it's the judiciary, its reforms and it's also the economy, jobs, proper support for people, the right amount of employment, the proper employment. Those things can help solve crime.
Esguerra: Thank you very much for joining us this morning, Senator Grace Poe.
Poe: Thank you.
Source: Senate of the Philippines