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Reallocating unused assets and savings to increase Solon: Libreng Sakay

On Thursday, a party-list lawmaker suggested that the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and Department of Budget and Management (DBM) reallocate some of the unused funds and cumulative savings to continue funding the Libreng Sakay (Free Ride) program, which helps commuters cope with rising fuel prices.

Henerasyon Bago Following reports that the government-subsidized transportation program might be canceled due to a shortage of funding, Rep. Bernadette Herrera made the statement.

According to a statement from Herrera, “To enable Libreng Sakay to prolong through December 31, the DOTr and DBM can realign part of the unallocated money and cumulative savings so far to maintain Libreng Sakay.”

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) has received funding from the national budget totaling PHP7 billion for the initiative.

But according to LTFRB Executive Director Kristina Cassion, the organization has used up 80% of its budget, and she issued a dire warning that more PUVs enrolling in the program mean that funding will run out in the “coming days.”

“We want to extend the program that was meant to run until December, but there are no more finances left,” Cassion said. “This is due to both the number of participants and the fact that they are all enrolled in the program,” she added.

Invoking the final safety net clause of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law to distribute the proceeds of the fuel excise tax, according to Herrera, is another possibility for Libreng Sakay to continue until June 30.

According to her, the government could borrow between PHP250 billion and PHP500 billion at zero interest from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas if the Executive Branch requires additional funding because what they need to achieve is not specifically listed in the 2022 General Appropriations Act.

“When money was required for immediate pandemic demands in 2020, the Executive Branch borrowed from the BSP. The pressure to act now is caused by rising fuel prices and high inflation. The Bangko Sentral has sufficient resources to lend to the DOF, according to her.

She asked newly-appointed Transportation Secretary Jimmy Bautista and Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno to prolong Libreng Sakay using these or other options available to them.

Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte of Camarines Sur said that the program should be maintained by the administration of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (BBM), as it would be a “great help” in reducing the impact of the fuel price shock on commuters.

In Metro Manila alone, according to Villafuerte, transportation costs account for a significant portion of the overall inflation rate. Operators of jeepneys, buses, and other transport network vehicle services have all requested fare increases, he added.

Villafuerte expressed his hope that the new BBM administration would be able to find a way to continue funding the Libreng Sakay program at least through the end of the year.

According to Villafuerte, the increase in the transport index by 14.6 percent was a major factor in the acceleration of inflation to 4.9 percent in May.

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