Is Tugade blocking Go-Jek's entry into the Philippines because of Grab?

(3rd UPDATE) Is the Department of Transportation (DOTr) deliberately blocking the entry of Indonesian ride-hailing firm Go-Jek in the Philippines? 

Quoting a high-ranking government official, a source told Rappler that Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade supposedly said he will "not allow" the entry of Go-Jek in the Philippine market "until Grab recuperates" from its losses.

On Thursday, March 21, Transportation Assistant Secretary Goddes Libiran told Rappler that Tugade does not intervene with LTFRB matters, despite being an attached agency.

"Secretary [Tugade] is not a micromanager. When it comes to matters like that, he lets LTFRB to decide on their own," Libiran told Rappler.

"Palagi ako kasama ni Secretary [Tugade] sa mga meetings with the road sector, the LTFRB. Pero wala akong natatandaang may sinabi siyang ganyan," she added.

(I am always with Secretary Tugade during meetings with the road sector, the LTFRB. But I can’t remember a time when he said something like that.)

Libiran said that Go-Jek can still appeal their case directly to the DOTr.

"That's when the Secretary will intervene," she said.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) again rejected Go-Jek's application as a transportation network company (TNC), through its local subsidiary Velox Technology Philippines, over the same foreign ownership issue.

Go-Jek operates in 66 cities in Indonesia, and has recently expanded to Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. It is backed by deep-pocketed investors in the tech scene such as Google, Chinese technology giants Tencent and JD.com; as well as Singaporean investment company Temasek.

In a text message to Rappler, LTFRB Chairman Martin Delgra III said that Velox is no longer foreign-owned but "still below the 60-40 requirement." To qualify as a TNC, it should be 60% Filipino-owned.

In March 2018, Grab bought the Southeast Asia operations of Uber, therefore having a "virtual monopoly" of the industry, as the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) previously said.

In a statement on Friday, March 22, Grab Philippines said it had "willfully" invested over $164 million in the Philippines for its operations "while remaining faithful, compliant, and respectful to regulators and policy makers."

"We, in no way, undermine their mandate and the trust given to them by the President by seeking special preference or partisanship in favor of our business," Grab said.

"We will continue to demonstrate our compliance as a fair and law-abiding corporation operating in the Philippines. We encourage everyone – both existing and incoming market players – to remain faithful to the procedures and the regulations set by the government," it added.

Since Uber left, ride-hailing services patrons have complained about unserved bookings from Grab. Drivers also said they don't receive as much incentives as when the California-based firm was still here.

The acquisition was eventually approved by PCC, but the antitrust body slapped Grab Philippines with a P12-million fine for causing "undue" difficulties to the review.

The PCC again fined Grab P6.5 million for violating its pricing commitments in January.

Will the Philippine government ever allow Go-Jek to operate in the country? Let's see. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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