February 3, 2023

Officials of the city government and some taxi operators in Baguio and Benguet have renewed their opposition on the plans of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board to allow 200 taxis to operate in Baguio, La Trinidad, Benguet and to any point of the Cordillera.
LTFRB-Cordillera OIC Director Lalaine Sobremonte said LTFRB will not process new franchises nor add more units to the 3,230 total units as of August 2020, but will only allow other entities to use abandoned or expired franchises.
She said appropriating abandoned or expired franchises is one of the three modes of acquiring a franchise as contained in the Public Service Act and supported by subsequent memorandum circulars of the LTFRB.
The LTFRB currently disallows the sale and transfer of franchises as the practice has been used by some enterprising individuals to sell the rights to operate a public utility vehicle when the same is issued for free by the LTFRB.
Records obtained by the Courier show that as early as 2009, the LTFRB issued Memorandum Circular (MC) 2009-035 opening applications for appropriation of abandoned and expired franchises for airconditioned taxis and buses but only in Mega Manila and regions 1, 3, 6, 7, 10.
In 2018, the LTFRB issued MC 2018-2011 that allowed appropriation of abandoned franchises in other regions in the country with condition that applicants should comply with the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines (OFG).
Among conditions in the OFG are for applicants to be a juridical entity, should have a private off-street parking area, and vehicles should be Euro 4-compliant.
For the Cordillera and the Caraga region, LTFRB issued MCs 2019-032 and 2019-016 that allowed the appropriation of 200 units for premium taxi services and 200 units for regular taxi services.
The Cordillera Basic Sectors Transport Corporation, Ermadrada Taxi Transport Cooperative, NJL Transport, and Trusted BLISTT Alliance of Transport Multipurpose Cooperative were among the first applicants that submitted their applications. The pre-qualification committee in the LTFRB-Cordillera has disqualified all applicants but they appealed to the central office.
While the LTFRB-Cordillera was accepting applications, city officials protested saying there was no need to add more taxis in the city. In September 2019, LTFRB suspended acceptance of applications “pending further consultation with the local government of Baguio.”
In October 30, 2019 the LTFRB lifted the suspension and ordered the regional office to resume accepting applications.
Sobremonte said even with the order to resume acceptance of applications, the regional office chose not to act on the applications until its central office has deliberated on the appeal of the disqualified applicants.
In November last year, the LTFRB reopened the selection process and instead of the minimum of 200 units, the required number of units was a minimum of 25 and maximum 50.
In July 2, the LTFRB en banc set the prequalification of interested applicants on July 23 and opening of bids last Aug. 6.
Two cooperatives and two corporations all with 50 units each have been prequalified by the LTFRB.
Oppositors maintain that Baguio is already saturated with vehicles and the current number of taxis is enough to cater to passengers of the city and nearby towns. They also said that there is no technical or scientific data that would prove that more taxis are needed.
The LTFRB was also accused of violating its own issuances such as the moratorium in the acceptance of franchise applications in Baguio and LISTT.
Former taxi franchise owners also said they should be allowed to reapply instead of awarding their franchise to other entities.
Sobremonte belied these claims. She said before the LTFRB decided to open abandoned or expired franchises, then Department of Transportation Regional Director Robert Santiago in December 2018 consulted stakeholders and the agreement was to allow interested taxi operators to take the slot of abandoned or expired franchises.
On the issue that former franchise holders should be given priority in the application, Sobremonte said LTFRB guidelines do not allow former franchise holders from applying anew as they are deemed uninterested in using their franchises.
A franchise is considered abandoned if the holder fails to confirm the franchise prior to registration of the authorized unit with the Land Transportation Office for two consecutive years. Those with expired holders are also given a chance to renew but if this is not renewed, it is also deemed that the former holder is disinterested, hence, government may award this to other applicants.
Sobremonte clarified the prequalified applicants still have to undergo another round of screening, which include a public hearing where oppositions to their application will be heard.
City council committee on transportation committee chair Benny Bomogao reiterated, the LTFRB should have at least informed the LGU first before it resumed acceptance of applications. “Public interest over the interest of a few should be paramount,” he said. – Rimaliza A. Opiña