Quiet Riot

FX Mega Taxi drivers and operators raised their fares by 5 pesos yesterday without the approval of, nor even consultation with, the Land Transport and Franchising Regulatory Board, the agency that grants franchises and approves fare matrices for Public Utility Vehicles.

Citing rapidly-rising fuel prices and the need to keep their families from starving to death, FX operators and drivers arbitrarily raised the minimum fare to 35 pesos in a move that is rooted in a tradition that goes back to the colonial American frontier, and can be traced, at least etymologically, to the Vigiles Urbani of ancient Rome. By bypassing due process, and pretty much flipping a collective middle finger at the authority of the LTFRB to regulate FX fares, they have become vigilantes, although not the cool kind that wear costumes and have superpowers, acting outside the law and weakening what control the government still has on the Filipino people.

The issue, while trivial to some who drive their own cars or cannot see the importance of laws in maintaining civilization, will be pivotal in the future of our country in the face of rising fuel and food prices.

The LTFRB, in fact, has no real option except to crack down on these FX drivers or forever lose face and authority in the department of franchising and regulating things. Retroactively approving the fare hike, even negotiated down to, say, just a 2-peso increase, will send home the message that the New People’s Army has been saying for the past three decades: the government has lost control not just in the guerilla fronts but on the mean streets of Manila as well.

If FX drivers can get away with imposing an illegal fare hike on commuters, what’s to stop jeepney and taxi drivers (who were recently granted a fare hike by the LTFRB) from doing the same thing while citing the same reasons? What’s to stop anyonefrom doing anything for no reason at all?

The issue isn’t whether a fare hike is needed or deserved, but whether the fare hike followed the proper channels and granted by a  legitimate authority. Further, the issue is how government will respond to being strongarmed by apolitical PUV drivers instead of idealistic student activists or landless farmers.

A misstep here can result in a wave of civil disobedience and the breakdown of law and order in the Philippines. Or it could usher in a new politics where people recognize no government and will be free to do as they please, but in a good way, (ie not burning and looting whatever they can lay hands on) contrary to centuries of history and human nature. Either way, though, the government may cease to exist except by name and mohawks and Doc Martens will be the national costume.

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