Bulacan lawmakers seek probe of toll fee hike

Malolos City–A senator and a congressman from Bulacan are asking the Department of Public Works & Highways and the Toll Regulatory Board, the office tasked with the supervision, operations and maintenance of the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx), to immediately explain to the public why even minor repairs and construction of additional exit and entry points along the highway will translate into an additional increase in toll fees.

“The representatives of these government agencies should explain to the motorists and the general public what is the policy they are pursuing. Who are they protecting? Is it the public or the concessionaires?” he asked.

Senator Joel Villanueva, whose sister is currently the municipal mayor of Bocaue where Iglesia ni Cristo’s Ciudad de Victoria is located, was responding to a question why the NLEX Corporation, the concessionare-operator of Nlex is charging an additional toll fees to motorists exiting at the Arena although the said portion was originally part of the ‘Open System’ or fixed-rate being implemented at the expressway.

Villanueva shares the stand of 2nd District of Bulacan Representative Gavino ‘Apol’ Pancho who has requested the TRB to make an immediate audit, check and investigate if there’s a real basis of charging additional toll fees along the stretch covering the entire length from Balintawak to Tabang Exit in Guiguinto, Bulacan.

“Based on the provision of the renewed concession granted to NLEX management, it is allowed to increase its rate every three years, provided that they are losing money in their operations.  And this is what we have to check and verify if there is basis because, as far as we know, NLEX Corp. is earning huge profits in billions of pesos every year,” Pancho said.

NLEx, formerly known as North Diversion Road and Manila North Expressway was initially built in the early 60s from Balintawak to Barangay Tabang in Guiguinto, Bulacan, where McArthur Highway (the main and only road then going to Central and Northern Luzon provinces) meets Maharlika Highway leading to Nueva Ecija, Isabela and other provinces in Cagayan Valley.

Construction of the Balintawak to Tabang Exit was originally done by the DPWH but was completed by the Construction Development Corp. of the Philippines (CDCP) and turned over to the government on August 4, 1968.   CDCP, then owned by crony-Rudolfo Cuneca, continued its extension roadworks up to Barangay Dau (exit) in Mabalacat, Pampanga passing thru the Candaba viaduct in 1976.

Thru massive loans from government banks during the martial law years, CPDP and the government-owned Philippine National Construction Corp. (PNCC), started its toll operations in 1977 after it was granted a 30-year concession by then President Marcos, or until 2007.

After the EDSA People’s Power in 1986, the Lopez Holdings Corporation (formerly Benpres Holdings Corp.) took control of the PNCC operations for almost two decades and renamed it Manila North Tollways Corp. (MNTC).

However in 2005, two years before the expiration of its 30-year concession to manage the operations of NLex, the Lopez family, which also owns the ABSCBN franchise, sold MNTC to the Metro Pacific-group owned by Manuel V. Pangilinan, like what it did to  Maynilad Water, reportedly due to massive maturing debt obligations.

Rep. Pancho pointed out that the financial statement  of the Pangilinan-owned NLEX Corp, showed it has been earning in billions of pesos for the past several years now since it took control of the expressway management in 2005.

“So, how can it justify and ask for additional increases when it is earning massively from the 300,000 vehicles daily traffic in both ways of NLEx,” Pancho asked.

“The TRB should re-investigate and revisit the concession agreement thru a transparent audit of its financial statements.  Kasi malinaw naman sa kontrata na may foreign investments sila na dapat protektahan para sa pagbigay ng ganitong serbisyo pero dapat matiyak natin na ang mga probisyon na ito ay hindi onerous at justifiable.  Kaya dapat maimbestigahan,” Pancho added.

According to its 1977 charter thru Presidential Decree No. 1112, TRB exercises close supervision, monitoring, and regulation of the construction, operation, and maintenance of toll facilities, and the collection of toll fees as well as the rate that may be charged for the use of these facilities.

Patricio de Guzman, 56, of Binang, Bocaue businessman whose father worked with PNCC,  said the original ‘Open System’ of NLEX was from Balintawak to Bocaue. “Kaya nga dating libre at walang toll barrier sa Turo Exit (Bocaue). Malaking tanong yan kung bakit pinayagan ng TRB na lagyan ng additional toll fee ang lumalabas papuntang Bocaue at bayan  ng Sta. Maria,” he laments.

Mayor Ambrosio Cruz of Guiguinto, Bulacan is also asking: “Bakit lagi nalang ang pinaguusapan ay pagtaas ng toll fee at laging kasama ang Tabang (Guiguinto) Exit? Matagal ng bayad ang kalsada mula Balintawak hangang Tabang, kung may repairworks man o idadagdag na entry o exit points along this stretch ay hindi naman siguro kakain ng billion piso,” Cruz asked.

By conservative estimates, a toll fee of P95 for the  300,000 cars (Class-1) a day (half of NLEX Corp. declared volume of daily traffic) is equivalent to P28.5-Million daily income for the concessionaire.

This excludes Class 2 (medium vans) and Class 3 (trucks and 10-wheelers) that pays P137 and P165, respectively, just for the ‘Open system’ alone and an additional P3 per kilometer in the ‘close system’ that stretches from Bocaue up to Sta. Ines in Mabalacat.  A truck pays P775 from Balintawak to Sta. Ines and up to P1,147 for a single trip up to Tarlac, the end point of the NLEx-SCTEx highway.

Topics: Toll Regulatory Board , Department of Public Works & Highways , North Luzon Expressway , Joel Villanueva , Gavino Pancho
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