Salceda says SLEX toll fee hike illegal, petitions SC to stop its imposition

Legazpi City (25 June) -- Albay Governor Joey Salceda declared that the toll fee hike imposed by the South Luzon Tollway Corporation (SLTC) is illegal because the franchise given to them by Philippine National Construction Corporation (PNCC) has expired and has not been renewed.

Salceda said the concession agreement between SLTC and PNCC commenced in May 2006 while the franchise given to PNCC expired in May 2007, without being renewed by Congress.

He said without a franchise granted to PNCC, the ongoing toll collection, grant concession to SLTC to increase toll fee are illegal.

Salceda said he has filed with the Supreme Court (SC) a petition asking for a restraining order implementing the 290-percent toll fee increase.

He said that he requested for a full review of the SLEX project.

Construction of TR-1, 2, and 3 was supposed to be completed in August 2009. And this was supposedly triggered by the turnover of operations. At least one year of cash flows from SLEX have been available to the concessionaire.

In June 2009, RTC Judge Tongco ruled that the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) does not have the authority to grant "administrative franchise" stripping PNCC of any legal camouflage for its toll fee collections, much more for its grant of concession.

Salceda, citing a SC ruling in November 2009 ruled on the Radstock case, that PNCC cannot use its corporate assets or cash flows to settle with Radstock/Marubeni as the SC established that these now belong to the national government since its franchise expired.

Thus, he said, toll fee collections should be remitted to the Bureau of Treasury and thereafter any settlement with Radstock would have to be appropriated by Congress through the regular budget process - initiated through the budget submission of the executive, originated by the House of Representatives, approved by Senate and finally by ratified a Bi-cameral report.

This SC ruling has vast consequences on the SLTC concession and the TRB toll fee hike approval.

Salceda said in effect, those toll fees were illegally collected by PNCC since it does not have the legislative franchise and the remedy of TRB administrative franchise was struck down by the judiciary as non-existent.

PNCC becomes at best a collector of these toll fees for the national government and not for its own account.

Salceda said, "The cash flows at least from the expiry of franchise up to the actual turnover to SLTC or three years amounting to about P7.5 billion should: have been returned to the motorists, have been remitted to the national treasury in escrow for the paying public but apparently from reports - none have been received by the national government. These should have been applied to the construction costs and, as far as TRB is concerned, these should have been deducted from the rate based upon which it computed toll fees."

If PNCC does not have a legislative franchise and an administrative franchise does not exist, then the STOA has no legs to stand on. Consequently the TRB approval of toll fee hikes becomes an ignominy, the governor pointed out. He added that as a Latin statement said "Nemo dat quod non habet - You cannot give what you do not have." Thus, PNCC has no legislative franchise to grant a concession. Thus, its toll fee impositions are effectively illegal, Salceda stressed.

The SLEX project is not covered by a BOT agreement unlike the Skyway and NLEX, he added. Nonetheless, as a national priority project listed in the NEDA IPP, this could not been the subject of an unsolicited BOT proposal, thus, subject only to a Swiss challenge after publication in international and national media. (PNA Bicol)