(File photo)

MANILA – A party-list lawmaker on Thursday said the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and Department of Budget and Management (DBM) could realign some of the unallocated funds and cumulative savings to continue financing the Libreng Sakay (Free Ride) program that helps ease the impact of surging fuel prices on commuters.

Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera made the statement following reports that the government-subsidized transport program would be discontinued due to lack of funds.

"In order for Libreng Sakay to extend until December 31, the DOTr and DBM can realign some of the unallocated funds and cumulative savings so far to keep Libreng Sakay going," Herrera said in a statement.

A PHP7-billion fund has been allotted to the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) for the program from the national budget.

LTFRB Executive Director Kristina Cassion, however, said the agency has exhausted 80 percent of the budget, as she warned that funds will be depleted in the "coming days" due to an increase in the number of public utility vehicles (PUVs) that enrolled in the program.

"We want to continue with the program na aabot pa sana hanggang December (that was supposed to last until December), but because (of) the number of the participants also na sumali rin sa atin kaya nagkaroon ng (that enrolled in the program, there is now an) exhaustion of funds,” Cassion said.

Herrera said another way for Libreng Sakay to continue after June 30 is for the Department of Finance (DOF) and DOTr to invoke the last provision on safety nets under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law to allocate fuel excise tax proceeds.

She said if the Executive Branch needs more funds because what they need to do is not itemized in the 2022 General Appropriations Act, the government could borrow around PHP250 billion to PHP500 billion at zero interest from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

"The Executive Branch borrowed from the BSP in 2020 when funds were needed for urgent pandemic needs. Now, the urgency to respond to is rising fuel prices and elevated inflation. The Bangko Sentral has enough funds to lend to the DOF," she said.

She urged incoming Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno and incoming Transportation Secretary Jimmy Bautista to extend Libreng Sakay through these or other means available to them.

Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte said the administration of President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. (BBM) should continue the program, which would prove to be a "big help" in cushioning the impact of the fuel price shock on the commuting public.

Villafuerte said transport costs are eating up a large share of the overall inflation rate in Metro Manila alone, adding that fare hike petitions have been filed by operators of jeepneys, transport network vehicle services, and buses.

"I hope that the new administration of BBM will be able to find ways of continuing to fund the Libreng Sakay program even at least until the end of the year," Villafuerte said.

Villafuerte said in May, inflation accelerated to 4.9 percent, owing largely to the increase of the transport index by 14.6 percent. (PNA)