Philippine senator wants S'porean CEO of motorbike ride-sharing firm kicked out of the country

MANILA – A senator and close ally of President Rodrigo Duterte has denounced the Singaporean chief executive of a motorcycle ride-sharing firm and wants her declared “persona non grata” – or unwelcomed – in the Philippines.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III accused Angkas head Angeline Tham, 37, of being “high-handed, arrogant and irresponsible” in a resolution filed in the Senate on Jan 16 .

“Her acts… should not be countenanced but be condemned to the fullest,” he said.

The Straits Times has reached out to Ms Tham and her representatives, but they have yet to reply.

Mr Pimentel claimed that Ms Tham was behind a “mass indignation rally” mounted by Angkas last month to paralyse traffic in the capital, Manila.

On Dec 22, some 20,000 riders and supporters of the company gathered along Edsa, Manila’s main highway, to “save Angkas”. One senator, Ms Imee Marcos, spoke at the rally.

They pressed the government to reconsider its decision to cut the number of riders registered with Angkas from 27,000 to just 10,000.

Angkas had at the time been the only motorcycle ride-sharing firm sanctioned by the government in a six-month pilot programme meant to ascertain the safe use of motorcycles as taxis.

That pilot programme, which ended last month, was extended for three more months. But Angkas was told to lay off two-thirds of its riders, so that two new players could come in.

Angkas protested against that decision.

Mr Pimentel said Ms Tham, as head of Angkas, had been sanctioning rallies and mounting social media campaigns to shame the government as part of an alleged effort to block the entry of rival firms.

The senator has endorsed one of these firms, JoyRide.

He said he did it to ensure Angkas would not have a monopoly of the motorcycle ride-sharing market.

He said neither he nor any of his kin had a stake in JoyRide.

“I do not have bias and favour of any current operator,” he said in a text message to ABS-CBN News on Thursday (Jan 23).

Still, Mr Pimentel drew flak for targeting Ms Tham.

Ms Marcos warned that declaring Ms Tham “persona non grata” would send the wrong signal to investors abroad.

“They may not want to come in,” she told reporters on Thursday.

On online news site Rappler’s Facebook page, management consultant Lyn Jean Naval wrote: “If he is not endorsing the competitor, declaring her persona non grata would make sense. But sorry, I can’t buy this.”

In another Facebook post, insurance agency manager Domingo Dazo said: “Why pick on her? It’s the government that should backtrack because Angkas was introduced precisely to reduce people’s suffering due to traffic congestion and inefficient trains.”

Mr Pimentel insisted that his focus was on Ms Tham herself and “how she behaved”.

“Angkas will not be affected as an entity,” he said.

He said he also wanted Ms Tham probed for supposedly misrepresenting how much of Angkas she owned.

Ms Tham once owned 99.996 per cent of the company behind Angkas but has trimmed her stake to just 40 per cent to comply with the Philippines’ limit on foreign ownership of local companies.

Ms Tham founded Angkas – a nod to the Tagalog word that means “to ride pillion” or “hitch a ride” – in 2016 after a stint with ride sharing giant Grab.

Angkas has cultivated a horde of loyal customers and supporters who have praised the company for offering a service that helps them cut through Manila’s soul-crushing traffic.

Traffic in Metro Manila is regarded as among the worst in the world, with cars often taking 4.9 minutes to crawl 1km.

It is unclear if a Senate resolution declaring her “persona non grata” can compel Ms Tham, who is married to a Filipino, to leave the Philippines. She already spends half the year in Singapore.

The immigration bureau can order foreigners to leave the Philippines, but only if they “pose a risk to public interest”.

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