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Duterte scolds ‘incompetent’ toll regulators over RFID mess

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President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened “incompetent” officials at the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) that he will boot them out from their posts, saying they had failed to avoid glitches in the RFID installation drive which caused traffic in several areas.

In his televised speech late Wednesday night, the President lambasted the TRB for allowing the shift to a cashless payment scheme at the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) without “thoroughly” testing it.

“Meron tayong regulator. Ang problema, itong regulator is another set of incompetent people. They should not have allowed a system right now to be put into use without a trial of one week at titingnan nila and anticipate what would be the problem,” Duterte said.

“Number one sana, ang regulator hindi pumayag to put up a new innovation in the flow of traffic sa NLEX at iba pa. At tiningan sana nila ang glitches. Hindi nila ginawa ‘yun,” he added.

The President has recommended to Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, who apologized to the public over the heavy traffic caused by the faulty RFID system, to replace TRB officials with ex-military generals who will regulate toll operations.

The chief executive reiterated that he has a penchant for appointing retired Army generals in government posts since they are reliable and trustworthy.

Duterte added that he is inclined to appoint new TRB officials who have work experience in running the government body.

“If you see another glitch here, palitan ko na lang lahat. ‘Yung may experience. Kung dumaan sa previous administration, I don’t care if it’s time ni Aquino or Arroyo,” he said.

“I suggest to Tugade to get a — subukan mo military, para isa na lang ang taong magplano. Never mind about that regulatory board. Kung talagang dead wood, eh, wala talaga,” Duterte added.

Formed in 1977, the TRB regulates and exercises jurisdiction over all toll roads in the Philippines such as NLEX, South Luzon Expressway, Manila–Cavite Expressway, Metro Manila Skyway, NAIA Expressway, and Subic–Clark–Tarlac Expressway.

TRB can enter into agreements with private firms that can engage in toll operations. The Metro Pacific Tollways Corporation is the current toll operator of NLEX.

Meanwhile, Duterte lamented that his administration is being blamed for the traffic congestion caused by the RFID scheme, saying he is embarrassed over the issue.

“Hindi ko matanggap ‘yung incompetence ninyo. Kami ang nasisisi, and not only that, you brought hardships on the people,” Duterte said.

The issue stemmed from the shift to cashless transactions on 1 December which left some motorists scrambling to install their RFID stickers at NLEX toll plazas. Some RFID cards were also faulty and cannot be read by NLEX sensors, resulting in bottlenecks for days.

The massive inconvenience prompted Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian to suspend NLEX’s business permit in the city. Consequently, motorists entering Valenzuela and exiting through any open system or until the Marilao exit won’t pay toll fees.

The waiving of toll fees in Valenzuela-based NLEX exits, caused by the business permit suspension, was lifted on Wednesday noon after the local government and NLEX Corporation officials came up with an agreement on fee collection policies.

In his speech, Duterte backed Gatchalian’s move, saying the mayor’s “conundrum” and “burst of anger” were justified.

“I would understand his conundrum taking place. Pati ako, magagalit talaga,” he said.

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