San Simon town in Pampanga province used to be a wasteland about three decades ago. Except for a few motorists who make Quezon Road their alternative and shorter route to the towns of Sta. Ana and Arayat in Pampanga, and to Cabiao as gateway to neighboring Nueva Ecija province, San Simon was not an eventful ride.
The rainy season from June to November can easily flood the rice fields along Quezon Road and submerge the highway. It is a risky ride—a motorist can easily find himself engulfed by rising floodwaters.
But San Simon overtime has transformed itself into a booming industrial town after the local government reclassified the entire stretch of Quezon Road as industrial and commercial zone. Quezon Road was fortified to accommodate more buses and heavy trucks. Its strategic location as part of the growth corridor of Central Luzon, with access to major road networks and arteries traversing several provinces of Central Luzon and Metro Manila, made it a natural industrial center.
Factories soon relocated to San Simon, which is just about 45 kilometers from Metro Manila and seven kms from capital San Fernando City, and about 20 kms from the Clark Special Economic Zone in Angeles City.
San Simon’s golden age, however, may come to an abrupt end if it doggedly pursues an anti-business stance. The town has started collecting what are clearly illegal toll from truckers and haulers passing the town to deliver raw materials and products for the local business community.
The San Simon local government unit has been collecting a daily fee of P300 from truckers and haulers transporting goods and various essential materials to business establishments operating in the town. Legal experts contend that the fees are illegal, citing that the route is a national road and not part of San Simon’s jurisdiction.
Alarmed by the negative impact of the toll on San Simon’s investment-friendly image, the town’s Sangguniang Bayan, in a special session presided by Vice Mayor Romanoel ‘Dading’ Santos and attended by municipal councilors and representatives of the local business community, passed on Nov. 24 an ordinance suspending the collection of the P300 fee from hauling and trucking services and other heavy equipment units.
The SB meeting was in response to the Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) No. 2021-01 issued by the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Department of Finance and the Anti-Red Tape Authority in April last year. The JMC was issued to suspend the imposition and collection of illegal fees and taxes on goods and products.
It was a turnabout from the Revised Revenue Code in 2008 that the local government unit enacted in the same year, including the collection of P300 toll from hauler and trucking services.
This revenue measure did not sit well with one smelter plant. It filed a court complaint against the code in 2010, arguing that the law was not supporting the growth of the local business community and the national economy.
Former San Simon Mayor Leonora Wong in 2012 countered through a motion for reconsideration (MR) in the Regional Trial Court of Macabebe, Pampanga, seeking the continuance of the toll imposition.
The RTC denied the MR and ordered the San Simon LGU to stop the collection from haulers and truckers, pending the final approval of the MR. The Macabebe court to date, however, has not ruled on the MR, prompting San Simon to continue with the toll collection.
Vice Mayor Santos said the SB passed the new ordinance following complaints from haulers and the local business community. The SB forwarded the new ordinance to the office of Mayor Abundio Punsalan Jr., who refused to sign it and issue an executive order for its proper execution.
Mayor Punsalan has 10 days to sign the SB Ordinance from the date of its issuance. If he fails to sign it, it becomes an executive order and will be implemented as scheduled effective on January 1, 2023.
It is not clear how the LGU will use the proceeds from the toll collection. The toll would reach to about P100 million a year, an excessive fee for a municipality the size of San Simon.
Robert Ramos of RTR Trucking has asked help from the national government. “If the government is committed to supporting ease of doing business to push the country’s economic growth, they need to take action in suspending the collection of illegal toll fees in San Simon,” says Ramos.
The logistics transport services sector in the Philippines, including the trucking industry, contributes about 4 percent to the total gross domestic product. Any disruption to its operations could derail the country’s economic growth.
San Simon LGU’s defiance creates a serious dent on the current administration’s call for unity and promise of extending support to local companies’ ease of doing business.
More importantly, consumers will bear the brunt of the additional toll collected by the LGU. The cost of products and goods will be more expensive as truckers will have no recourse but to pass on the cost of toll to consumers.