Again, we are ruled out by economics and numerals and figures composing a collection of jargon seemingly hard to question.
Last October 01, the toll fee hikes begun to be implemented on major expressways going to and within Metro Manila. No one needs to hear again the mighty justifications for the increase, touted economists and politicians have spoken enough. We have to think about the aftermath now. The Toll Regulatory Board, the approving body of this toll hike, said that the increase will generate an additional annual income of 2 billion. Ideally, and this is where the policy-makers and approving bodies are always coming from, the added revenue will be for the betterment of the services in the toll ways, something that will, as they claim, benefit the ordinary people, commuters and drivers alike.
With the seeming straightforwardness and matter-of-factly manner of expressing this statement, the increase seems well-justified. But we should not refuse from wondering further. We are talking about public expressways here, not some elitist, private highway owned by specific group of people. The expressways where the toll hikes took effect are major ones, not the type where only few vehicles pass by. These are public highways. These are supposed to be subsidized by the government since they are part of the basic transportation services which the state must provide for its people.
So here we go again, the issue of state subsidy on basic social services resurfacing, scratching our heads, reminding us of itself. While the government is busily negotiating with various corporations for public-private partnerships, the people are left in a situation where they have to adapt to raising prices caused by the privatization of services that were once given to them at no big price. While the government shirks form its responsibility of providing basic services to its people and private corporations exploiting the situation for their own good, the people are left in shambles. This is an old tale, an old tale that constantly reinvents itself that now we can also see it in public expressways.
Courting the middle-class anger
An interesting remark amidst the string of events recently is Senator Ralph Recto’s warning about the possible explosion of a middle-class revolt, or something like that. On initial contemplation, Recto’s observation sounds very valid. Middle-class people are the primary users of the transportation system where the expressways are included. Upper middle-class people ply the expressways with their private cars while the lower middle-class avails of the public transport that is mainly situated within the metro.
Logically, the increase in toll fees will be burdensome to the vehicles that traverse along these roads. For public utility vehicles such as jeepneys and buses, the toll fee hike will surely take a brunt out of their scant daily earnings. This can only agitate them and demand fare hikes later on, something that the thousands of commuters have to shoulder, and most definitely aversely and not without clamors, shall these take effect. And what about provincially operating transport groups and other vehicles which also pass along the toll hike-affected expressways? What about provincial buses and fruits and vegetable dealers? It would not be surprising to see rising prices of fruits, vegetables and other perishable goods and provincial bus fares in the near future.
Prices will rise, that is an easy expectation. The vital issue now is whether the majority of the people, even the relatively well-off middle-class included, can still do with the economic pressure these hikes put on them. Will their old salary rates still suffice for them to have a decent living? Or they will sense the acuteness of the crises more strongly and who knows, be more active and participative in actions that condemn the government’s policies leading to the hikes and their eventual burden? There is a very high likelihood for the second possibility and if that happens, I can sense a burgeoning of the people’s collection action against the grave misconduct and selfish expediency of the government.
More importantly, what about the greater part of the populations leaving below poverty line? What will they do when all imaginable means to make ends meet and forge daily survival have seemed to be already exhausted? Perhaps we can silently nod to the forthcoming trend of more kidneys sold, more sexual innocence brought into flames, more cases of petty crimes and even more abstracted pinning of hopes on and pining for working abroad, by all means possible legal or not – all for the dream of greener pastures, all for the sake of even the barest survival.
Ultimately, let us not invoke jargon-filled economics and statistics here. Let us not turn to facts and figures and elitist-obscurantist discourses here, their accuracy and proximity to reality and what is valuable to majority is highly doubtable nonetheless. This is privatization yet again. This is the state coolly, mindlessly abandoning its people yet again. This is another practically evil scheme that bestows no bane, all peril and onus to the majority of the people – tougher daily existence, less food on the table, more temptation to resort to inhumane practices just to get through the day. Let us do away with facts and figures, once and for all. And rhetorical justifications, too. The people cannot eat them.