By Tetch Torres-Tupas | | Tuesday, January 27, 2015

MANILA, Philippines—Government lawyers have asked the Supreme Court for more time to answer the petitions questioning the legality of the fare increase in the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and the Metro Rail Transit (MRT).

In a seven-page motion, Solicitor General Florin Hilbay sought a 30-day extension to submit the response of the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC).

The comment was supposed to be submitted on January 26 but Hilbay said they did not have enough time to prepare due to the nonworking holidays for the visit of Pope Francis on January 15 to 19.

“The comment is due for filing on January 26. The period granted by the honorable court, however, coincides with the declared special nonworking days in the National Capital Region in view of the state and pastoral visit of His Holiness Pope Francis,” the motion said.

“Consequently, government offices, including those of public respondents DOTC and the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) were closed on the first four days of the 10-day period granted to respondents,” the motion further stated.

In a resolution last January13, the high court ordered DOTC Secretary Jose Emilio Abaya and other respondents–MRT 3 Office officer-in-charge Renato San Jose, LRT Authority Administrator Honorito Chaneco, MRT Corp. and Light Rail Manila Consortium of Ayala and Metro Pacific–to answer the petitions.

The high court deferred ruling on the plea for issuance of temporary restraining order (TRO) and opted to first consider the answers of respondents to the consolidated petitions before deciding on the urgent relief plea.

One of the petitioners, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said the delay on the part of the government to explain the fare increase will delay the Supreme Court’s deliberation on the application for a TRO.

“This will prolong the agony of hundreds of thousands of commuters who are paying more now,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said in a text message.

Petitioners asked the high court to void the order of DOTC last month that paved the way for the increase.

They accused the DOTC of committing grave abuse of discretion in approving the increase and also of violating the constitutional right to due process of millions of mass transit commuters since there was allegedly no consultation held prior to implementation of the fare adjustment.

The DOTC already implemented an increased base fare of P11 for both the LRT and MRT, starting January 4, with an additional P1 charge for every kilometer.

The increase jacked up the fares of LRT-1 from Baclaran to Roosevelt stations and vice versa to P29 for a one-way trip; LRT-2 from Santolan to Recto stations and vice versa to P24; and the MRT-3 from North Avenue to Taft Avenue stations and vice versa to P28.