Villanueva: Is NLEX toll fee hike legal?

Senator Joel Villanueva on Wednesday questioned the legality of the recently approved toll fee hike in the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), asking if adequate notice and public hearings were conducted by the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) before approving the toll fee increase.

The toll hike, which was implemented since November 6, prompted an increase of 25 centavos per kilometer on NLEX.

Under the new toll matrix, Class 1 vehicles or ordinary cars traversing from EDSA Balintawak or Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City to Sta. Ines in Mabalacat, Pampanga will pay an additional P18.

An additional P46 will be shouldered by Class 2 vehicles or buses and small trucks while Class 3 vehicles which include large trucks and trailers will pay P56 more.

Villanueva said such steep increase in toll fees is "obviously unjustified and anti-poor."

"Malaking dagok po ang pagtaas ng toll fee na ito sa ating mga kababayan sapagkat apektado po ang lahat dito. Sa pagtataas ng singil sa toll, tataas din ang presyo ng pamasahe, produkto at serbisyo. Sa mga truckers na may pinakamalaking toll na binabayaran sa NLEX, ang dagdag na singil ay babawiin nila sa presyo ng hauling o transportation," Villanueva stressed.

NLEX is a major national road which connects Metro Manila to Central and North Luzon. On average, around 220,000 vehicles pass through this expressway on a daily basis. This means that approximately 6.6 million vehicles ply this roadway in one month.

"Considering the volume of end-users, the increase would inevitably have a domino effect in the amount of commodities that passes through this roadway, and the amount of transportation cost, especially the amount of fares in public utility vehicles," the senator further explained.

Meanwhile, the Manila North Tollways Corp. (MNTC), which acts as the builder and concessionaire of the NLEX, cites as justification for the increase the necessity to recoup its investment.

MNTC president and chief executive Rodrigo Franco said the toll adjustment was needed for them to be compensated for the P2.9 billion they spent for the construction of more than 50 kilometer-road from Sta. Rita to San Fernando.

Last year, the MNTC issued a notice of arbitration and statement of claim to the government to obtain compensation which amounts to P3 billion for the said expressway.

However, a perusal of MNTC's Annual Report for 2016 casts a cloud of doubt on its entitlement to such increase.

Based on its Annual Report, MNTC's total revenues have been constantly increasing from 2014 to 2016, from P7.6 Billion in 2014 to P10.7 Billion in 2016. In fact, its net income increased by 37% in 2016.

"These figures make it quite absurd to claim that the MNTC is not able to recoup its investments," Villanueva said.

As a response to the issue, the senator mulls to file a resolution to scrutinize the said toll hike.

According to Villanueva, law and jurisprudence have provided guidelines in the increase of toll fees.

Section 3(d) of PD 1112 states that before toll rates may be issued, modified and promulgated, there must be prior notice and public hearing "to approve or disapprove the petitions for the increase."

Furthermore, Villanueva said that under the Administrative Code of 1987, the Commission on Audit (CoA) should be consulted on any proposed toll hike.

"Thus, aside from the requirement of notice and hearing, COA must also be consulted before TRB approves any increase in toll hikes. Moreover, the rates should also be fair, reasonable and sensitive to the interests of our road users," Villanueva stressed.

Source: Senate of the Philippines

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