MEL STA.MARIA | The UBER/GRAB controversy: the “few” and their views are also important

August 17, 2017 - 11:00 AM
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Atty. Mel Sta. Maria is the Dean of the Far Eastern University Institute of Law. He also teaches at the Ateneo de Manila School of Law and the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila College of Law.

It was reported that Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) member Aileen Lizada remarked that Uber and Grab account for only “2% of 21.5 million” trips per day by public utility transport.

She continued by saying: “Sila lang ho ‘yung maingay sa (They’re only noisy on) social media …. definitely government will not budge, we will not be allowed or influenced because of social media.”

The message is clear. These complaining consumers are few. The LTFRB does not have to seriously listen to their criticism of the sanctions against UBER and GRAB, which included suspension.

We see here a glimpse of a government-mindset. When the minority in a country is ignored, then we are looking at a bully administration, whose predilection is its readiness to disregard the rights of the few and the weak — an unwritten policy of ready-marginalization with ease and without conscience.

This UBER-GRAB controversy may not be significant to the majority, but surely, that “insignificance” is not the standard for protecting (or not protecting) the minority. The law must always have a socially redeeming value — and nothing can be more socially redeeming than the law leaning in favor of the minority and not the majority. For what use is the law if it is only for the majority — who can take care of themselves — instead of the minority who are usually taken advantage of.

And we are not even talking here of UBER/GRAB per se but the ordinary “minority” consumers who toil hard to earn a living not only to survive but also to make this government survive by paying  their taxes. What they only want is to try to get to their appointments, offices, and clients on time with reasonable comfort and ease. In short, these are working people who contribute to the economic activity of the country.

And at the end of the day, these are also the consumers desiring to get home to their families, wives, children, parents, brothers and sisters as early as possible for valuable bonding time, long enough to be meaningful. UBER and GRAB provide such convenience and opportunity.

This reminds me of the SONA when President Duterte said: “Alam mo kasi (You know), in this country it is the rule of the majority. I did it for the 50 plus 1 because, in a vote of 100, I get 51, 50 plus one. Fifty is one-half, one, that is a majority of one, I win. ‘Yung 49, ‘yon ‘yung mga (The 49, those are the) …. I DO NOT HAVE TO MAKE THEM HAPPY.”

This reflects a non-inclusive mindset. A president is the leader of all the 100,000,000 Filipinos. It is his obligation also to relate to and take care of the minority, no matter how annoying they are to him. That is the burden of the presidency. That is meaningful and unifying leadership.

And so, in the same non-inclusive  spirit of the SONA shutting out the minority, the leaders of the LTFRB condescend to the social media clamor of the few, in effect relaying the message, rightly or wrongly, that the LTFRB and its officers ” do not have to make them happy.”

But in the first place, it is likely that the LTFRB is banking on a law overtaken by modern technology. For sure, the computerized system of UBER and GRAB was not even contemplated by our transportation laws — of jeepneys, taxis, buses, tricycles and their operators — when they were promulgated many years ago. What is not within the intent of the law must not be included in it.

And if government wants such unique operations to be within its strict regulation, Congress must address this modern development and amend the existing law. This has already happened many times. For example, previously, libel could only be committed if the derogatory remark was made in a newspaper, or a radio or television broadcast pursuant to a 1934 law. The phenomena of the internet arrived and people began posting bad messages online. To also address libelous statements made in cyberspace, the Anti-Cybercrime Law was enacted. The government adjusted to the dangers of that modern technology by legislating and implementing new laws. This should likewise be the case with the UBER-GRAB issue. Unless the law is amended, a government agency, like the LTFRB, is without authority to impose any sanction on a transaction not even imagined by our legislators when they enacted our transportations laws.

There are times when government must realize and admit that its grip on the old ways can give people serious inconvenience. And even if only a few taxpayers make loud criticisms on this grip, they are also worth listening to.

As Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”