Singaporean rideshare innovator Angeline Tham: Hero or persona non grata in the Philippines?

Senator accused of forcing her to make room for a company whose business development adviser is a senior member of his party

Manila — Singapore-born Angeline Tham is a hero to thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Filipino commuters. Unfortunately, with some leaders, she is not nearly as popular, with one Philippine senator even seeking to deport the young mother of one due to controversy over a motorcycle ride-sharing business the entrepreneur runs in the country.

Ms Tham, who is 33 this year, is married to a Filipino and used to work for JP Morgan Singapore and ride-sharing giant Grab. She started “Angkas”, which means “to hitch a ride”, in 2016.

In Manila’s notorious gridlocks, which can cost as much as S$94 million in daily economic losses, she had found herself stuck in traffic and would be late for meetings. She then began the city’s first motorcycle ride-sharing service, which has greatly benefited Filipinos from all walks of life.

Angkas has a 99.99-plus per cent safety record and has been downloaded over one million times in the Philippines.

However, questions over the company’s business permit arose in 2017, which led to a brief suspension of services the following year.

But the company’s troubles intensified towards the end of last year, when the Department of Transportation ruled that only 30,000 motorcycle riders would be allowed for ride-sharing in Manila, a number that needed to be divided equally among three companies: Angkas, JoyRide and MoveIt. Angkas, which already had 27,000 riders, was being forced to let go of 17,000.

The company went to court to fight this ruling, arguing that it had worked hard to grow its ranks of riders over the past few years.

Angkas held a “unity gathering” on Dec 22, which Senator Aquilino Pimentel III termed an “indignation rally” that paralysed the streets of Metro Manila.

He sought for Ms Tham to be declared persona non grata and called for an investigation into her stake in the company, on the grounds that the country’s law capping foreign ownership at 40 per cent had allegedly been violated.

But supporters of Angkas, who are very vocal online, said the senator was railroading the company to make room for JoyRide, whose business development adviser is the Secretary-General of the PDP-Laban political party. The senator presides over the party and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is its Chairman.

Senator Pimentel responded: “I do not have bias and favour of any current operator.” But he does not deny having endorsed JoyRide.

He added that the persona non grata petition against Ms Tham would not affect the company. “Angkas will not be affected as an entity. Hence this cannot be in favor of anybody, but the need for the foreigner to now account for her actions,” he said.

The senator claimed that Ms Tham “bullied” members of the technical working group (TWG) of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board.

He added: “For me, the actions and pronouncements of (Angkas) were intended to bully the TWG. You cannot bully the government, especially under the Duterte administration.”

However, Angkas claims that the majority shares of the company are now owned by Ms Tham’s Filipino husband, Mr George Royeca.

Ms Tham said in a statement: “We respect the prerogative of the good senator and hope to move forward from these issues. We have high regard for the Senate and hope for a positive result in the process.” -/TISG