Colorum Mafia: The dangers of illegal PUVs (Part 1)

It was the evening of January 19. Andrew Galleros was on his way home to Cavite.

He took a white, unmarked van at a terminal in Pasay City.

He had no idea what he boarded was a colorum van.

Just five minutes before reaching home, four men right inside the van declared a hold-up.

One of the men pointed a gun at Andrew and the other passengers, among them a pregnant woman.

The van proceeded to the Pacita Complex in San Pedro, Laguna.

"They were talking to someone over a cellphone," Andrew related in Tagalog. "They were asking if we would let us get down one by one and then be shot."

The ordeal took about four hours.

The men took them to several places, including dark alleys. They had no chance to scream for help.

The van was heavily tinted. So they could not even signal anyone outside for help.

After passing through Imus in Cavite, the van went to Canlubang in Laguna, where the robbers allowed them to get down.

The passengers reported the incident to the police. But the robbers were never identified.

Andrew's father checked the van's registration at the Land Transportation Office. The license plate belongs to a different car.

Since then, Andrew swore never to ride such vans again.

Had he known what a colorum vehicle looked like, he would not have put his life at risk.

But Andrew's case is not the first.

Many people have reported similar incidents to the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), according to its president, Dante Jimenez.

"The problem is," he said in Tagalog, "nobody can go after anyone, because they're colorum. They usually don't have papers."

Jun Magno, president of the Stop and Go Transport Coalition, says the number of colorum vans has increased significantly since the Department of Transportation and Communications stopped releasing franchises in 2010 to ease traffic.

But operators ended up joining colorum associations — or what they call the Colorum Mafia.

This mafia has grown too powerful in protecting illegal operators run their business.   

As a result, they put passengers' lives in grave danger.

Colorum vans are unregistered and unregulated. In case of accidents or hold-ups,  passengers cannot sue operators nor demand financial help.

Lawyer Mary Ann Salada, spokesperson of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), says: "Because they're not regulated by the government, if they get into an accident, we have no franchise to cancel. Nobody is penalized."

It's been five years since the LTFRB released the last franchises for UV Express.

UV Express operators, though, may sell and transfer their franchise to another — provided that the LTFRB approves it.

But operators say the process is too tedious, as there are too many requirements.

The franchise application fee with the LTFRB should only cost P510 for the first two units and P70 pesos for each  additional unit.

But operators get around the process and end up engaging in illegal transactions, with amounts ranging from P120,000 to P300,000 changing hands, according to Salada

The number of colorum operators has reached hundreds.

The mafia gets away with violationg the rules of the road by paying off traffic enforcers and police  — in most cases including high-ranking officials.

Meanwhile, thousands of commuters like Andrew Galleros travel at their own risk every day.