“No driver in his or her right mind would turn down a new vehicle unit if it were affordable. But the government has no program to help them avail of vehicles that would pass the government’s supposed environmental requirements.” – George San Mateo, Piston Party-list
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – How much of new sales of foreign car manufacturers do the Aquino government and its transportation agencies want for this year? How much profit in lending and in buy-and-sell of transport route franchises does the Aquino government want some business groups to corner?
These are some of the questions aired behind calls for due process and genuine consultations by drivers-operators of AUV taxis today, January 10, as they launched a transport caravan to Mendiola Bridge in Manila from the Elliptical Road in Quezon City. It is their second protest caravan. They conducted a transport caravan last month to the Department of Transportation and Communications.
Led by the Alyansa Laban sa UV Express Phase-out (ALSA-UV) and Piston Party-list, they are demanding the immediate scrapping of LTFRB Memo Circulars 2012-07 and 2012-17. The circulars would strip AUV taxi units older than the year 2000 of the right to ply their route beginning this year. This would be implemented even if they have satisfied the government requirements and they have already secured a franchise, which provides that their vehicles can ply their route up to 2015 or 2016.
The LTFRB circulars would force the drivers-operators of affected AUV units to buy new vehicles beginning this year, if they want to pursue their livelihood as AUV driver-operators. Given the lack of immediate capital to buy new units, and the lack of alternative available jobs, they fear unemployment and hunger for their families, some of the drivers-operators told Bulatlat.com.
Drivers also desire new vehicles, but not this way
Rolly Apalla, 42, has been an AUV driver-operator for eight years now. While admitting that he would have liked a new vehicle to drive, he said the LTFRB circular would deny thousands of people like him a decent livelihood.
Who would benefit from this new circular? According to the AUV drivers-operators, their vehicles may be old but they are maintaining it well, since their livelihood depends on it. Interviews with other protesting drivers-operators converging at the Elliptical Circle, before they drove a protest caravan of AUVs to Mendiola in Manila, revealed that they are not opposed to the eventual phase out of older vehicles. But they asked the government to respect the timeframe stated in the franchise they had paid for, and for which their vehicles had previously achieved government approval.
“We have no problem with a phase out, but we hope the government would adhere to due process before they start implementing it,” Apalla told Bulatlat.com. He said drivers hope the government would also do its share in ensuring that the vehicles it imports into the country have passed the standards they are requiring now. Apalla shared that some drivers they know have failed the pollution test even though they are driving new units.
Like many drivers-operators, Apalla holds a franchise to operate his current AUV up to 2015. He had paid P30,000 ($730) for the franchise conversion from metered taxi to AUV in 2010.
Other drivers-operators said the cost of their franchise had gone up to P100,000 ($2,400) to include not just the franchise fee but also repairs on their AUVs to satisfy requirements on road-worthiness and lessening contribution to pollution. They had expected to drive their vehicles till the expiration of their franchise, and not earlier.
The government has not given them time to prepare; the government has not informed them their vehicles would be phased out beginning 2013, they said. They added that the government could have given them fair warning at the time they were registering their vehicles and paying the government the required franchise fees.
Even the drivers-operators whose franchises are set to end this year said the government has not given them advance warning of the planned phase out. Some of the drivers-operators have been requesting the LTFRB for three years now for extension of the validity of motor vehicle plates ending in 1 or 2. But until now, they said, the LTFRB is still sitting on their request. “They could have told the drivers-operators of their phase out plan from the beginning, rather than make them wait three years,” said Paul Mendros, 61, president of AUV Transport Federation of Rizal.
‘Pollution just an excuse to squeeze small drivers-operators’
A big proportion of the estimated 40,000 AUVs in the country are likely to be affected by the Aquino governments’ planned phase out. In Rizal, Mendros said as much as 85-percent of currently operating AUVs could be grounded. The Cubao-Buendia route may see 90-percent of AUVs affected, said Apalla.
According to George San Mateo, Piston party-list president and convener of ALSA-UV, no driver in his or her right mind would turn down a new vehicle unit if it were affordable. But drivers said the government has no program to help them avail of vehicles that would pass the government’s supposed environmental requirements.
Although public transportation is vital to the economy, small drivers and operators are left to fend for themselves, drivers told Bulatlat.com. Worse, considering their vehicles have passed at least two layers of vehicle checkups to determine their road-worthiness (these include the national government’s MVIS [Motor Vehicle Inspection Service], a yearly compulsory check with the Land Transportation Office, and the local government’s smoke-belching test), these tests would amount to nothing now if their vehicle would still be summarily phased out.
Gabriel Aguinaldo, 49, AUV driver-operator plying Pasig-Quiapo route, told Bulatlat.com that they do not get any government assistance and they do not know where the proceeds of the Road Users’ Tax go. Aurelio Agustin, 53, also an AUV driver-operator, observed that drivers do not get any support out of the P40-billion ($975.6 million) yearly budget for the DOTC from the proceeds of the EVAT on oil.
And now, “It cannot be denied that some influential people are pushing for the massive implementation of the phase out of old vehicles to effect a surge in sales of new units,” San Mateo said in a statement.
At the same time, San Mateo pointed out that the sudden decision to implement the phase out this year would prompt the selling of franchises of the affected vehicles, most likely to big businesses, since it is they who have the capacity to buy vehicle units in bulk.
San Mateo dared President Aquino to investigate who among his underlings in the DOTC and LTFRB are “acting as agents in the business of selling AUVs.” Failure to do so, he warned, “could suggest the president also has a stake in such corrupt practices in the DOTC.”
The transport groups challenged Aquino to “be comprehensive” in dealing with the effects of the AUV express on drivers, operators and commuters.
“A mandatory or forcible replacement of units right now would only cater to the interest of big car manufacturers and lenders while eroding the already diminishing earnings of drivers,” San Mateo explained.
Indeed, drivers-operators plying at least three different major routes in Metro Manila told Bulatlat.com that already, they are getting feedback from government transport offices that they may be forced to buy a new franchise from big businesses at double its original cost.
“We ask President Aquino to listen to our pleas that we be allowed to continue with our livelihood and serve our commuters,” Mendros said. He invited President Aquino to hitch a ride with their AUVs, “so he could see for himself that these are in good condition.”
The transport groups that conducted a caravan today also urged Aquino to act on other issues disadvantageous to small drivers and operators, and the commuters, in the end. These include oil price increases (twice already this year), and the DOTC-LTO Department Order 39, which “illegally raised fines and penalties.”