“The opportunist transport leaders allowed themselves to be used by the government in pushing for the mandatory PUJ phaseout due to their greed and self-interest to earn fat commissions from the bulk sale of E-Jeep/E4 Jeep.” – Piston
By MARYA SALAMAT
Manila – Hundreds of public utility jeepney drivers and small operators gathered their jeepneys at the Quezon Memorial Circle Elliptical Road this morning November 10 and conducted by noon a protest caravan to the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC). It is part of a nationally coordinated protest against the latest DOTC circular that they say would deny them of their livelihood, without really resolving the problems such as pollution and traffic that it purportedly seeks to address.
In various provinces all over the country, jeepney and van drivers and operators also held their own transport caravans and protest actions. Led by the Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (Piston), the coordinated national protest is opposing the DOTC circular ordering the implementation of a planned phase-out of 15-year models of public utility jeepneys starting January next year.
PISTON and most ordinary drivers were apparently not consulted.
The plan to phase out jeepneys is “an old plan that was forced by protests to lie low, but was suddenly resurrected” this year, Steve Ranjo, secretary general of Piston, told Bulatlat.com last week.
If the phase out pushes through, it is big money and sales for government-approved makers of the new jeepney. Most registered vehicles in the Philippines are for private use. The country’s transport services are mainly consisted of jeepneys (public utility vehicles), taxis, tricycles, and pedicabs that are privately owned and operated, according to the Asian Development Bank’s Philippines’ Transport Sector Assessment, Strategy, and Road Map (done in 2012).
Now, those same jeepneys that are at the core of intra-city public transport and mainly patronized by low to middle income passengers are the target of forcible phaseout in 2016, before the national elections.
The Jeepney is regarded as testament of Filipino ingenuity and resourcefulness, having started as remodeled army vehicles out of those left behind by US forces after World War II, to cater to the need for public transport.
‘Not for the drivers, riders, nor clean air’
“The planned phase-out of public utility jeepneys threatens the livelihood of drivers and operators all over the country. It will dislocate them and adversely affect many of our riders, who are mostly poor workers, students and peasants,” George San Mateo, Piston national president and first nominee of Piston Partylist, said during their program at Elliptical Road morning of Nov. 10.
He estimates that up to 99 percent of public utility jeepneys would be forced out of the streets with the DOTC ordered jeepney phaseout and forced sale of their approved jeepneys.
There are more than two hundred thousand registered jeepneys in the country. At least 70,000 public utility jeepneys are in Greater Capital Region (Metro Manila, Region 3 and Region 4-A alone, according to the government’s transportation roadmap.
San Mateo estimated the number of jeepney drivers, including alternate drivers or relievers at 162,500 and jeepney operators at 45,000.
Contrary to the DOTC claims that the phaseout is meant to reduce pollution and traffic, the jeepney drivers said their vehicles have “conditioned” machines.
“The truth is they don’t really know jeepneys,” said Danilo Oracion, president of Piston chapter in Sucat-Parañaque route. He was referring to the DOTC.
A driver for 30 years now, he got to drive his own jeepney only 10 years ago. He said his vehicle is in a very good condition.
“Our machines are overhauled regularly. All its parts are replaced and renewed to comply with government testing.”
Once overhauled, he said, a jeepney’s machine is cleaned, parts contributing to pollution have been replaced.
For drivers or operators to register their jeepney, it has to pass the smoke emission test by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Just because a jeepney is “old” doesn’t automatically mean it is pollutant enough to justify being forced out of the streets, Oracion told Bulatlat.com.
Most jeepney drivers participating in the protest confirmed that it is but ordinary part of their job to make sure their machines are clean and in good condition – if not, it is their day’s earnings that will take a hit.
Oracion said the DOTC’s emission testing is such that even if their vehicles have passed the DENR test, “for some reason it won’t pass the DOTC test, even if the machine was newly calibrated.”
He added that after their machines were overhauled and calibrated, what is left that contributes to pollution is the machine’s burning of diesel.
But if the vehicles’ use of diesel is the culprit of pollution, public utility drivers wonder why the government is not going after the private vehicles, which are some 80 percent of vehicles in Metro Manila, San Mateo said, citing MMDA data.
DOTC conniving with yellow transport leaders for pricey ‘new jeeps’?
George San Mateo scored the “opportunist transport leaders” who he said connived with the government and the big business groups.
“The opportunist transport leaders allowed themselves to be used by the government in pushing for the mandatory PUJ phaseout due to their greed and self-interest to earn fat commissions from the bulk sale of E-Jeep/E4 Jeep,” San Mateo said in Tagalog during their program at Elliptical Road.
He enumerated the following “opportunist transport leaders” who “betrayed” their members as 1-Utak’s Vigor Mendoza, Fejodap’s Zeny Maranan, Acto’s Efren de Luna, Altodap’s Boy Vargas, LTOP’s Mando Marquez and Pasang Masda’s Obet Martin.
He said these people are the transport “dealers”, not leaders, who attended the government’s “public consultation” concerning the jeepney phaseout.
San Mateo noted that in one of these meetings on August, “some large foreign and private suppliers who stand to reap superprofits from the jeepney phaseout were present.”
Each DOTC-approved jeep costs from one million pesos to P1.2 million ($21,163 to $25,395).
Sleepless nights for worried drivers/operators
Speaking before his fellow drivers and small operators at the program held by PISTON near the Quezon City Hall along Elliptical Road, Danilo Oracion, president of Piston’s chapter in the Sucat-Parañaque route, said that when he learned about the DOTC’s order, he finds it hard to sleep, worrying about his livelihood.
Roberto Santos, president of Piston’s affiliated association of jeepney drivers and operators in Pasay, said that in their terminal, the drivers and operators under 1-Utak and Pasang Masda are also opposed to the planned phaseout.
“But their leaders are not telling them about what they have consented to in ‘public consultations,’” Santos said.
“We in Piston heard about it and discussed it as a group. We talked about what we should do,” he added.
Some drivers and operators under transport groups whose leaders agreed with the phaseout have joined the protest caravan led by Piston.
In fact, before the caravan left Elliptical for the DOTC headquarters, the president of a drivers’ and operators’ association from Lagro asked to speak at the program to denounce the planned phaseout. His group is affiliated with one of the transport groups led by “yellow leaders.
“If the government forces the implementation of the jeepney phaseout, we have no more livelihood,” said Junar Manaloto, a driver for 18 years now in Pasay.
He doubts the capacity of his operator to replace all six of his current jeepney units. “What will become of our operator, then? He cannot afford a new unit – most of his money are used up by expensive fuel and parts.”
Ill-suited to situation, terrain
George San Mateo said the DOTC has been pushing for the mandatory PUJ phaseout to force small operators to buy the imported and expensive electronic jeepney and Euro 4 jeepney.
But “Not only are small operators not ready to purchase that, it is also not suited to the situation and terrain prevailing in the Philippines,” said San Mateo.
Drivers see the phaseout as just another way for foreign companies to reap super profits in the sale of the e-Jeepney and Euro 4 jeepney, and to further sustain the privatized power and deregulated oil industries.
The jeepney phaseout would force the currently self-employed drivers and operators into becoming mere employees of big private transportation companies – or the companies that could afford to purchase the DOTC-recommended jeeps. Some drivers interviewed by Bulatlat.com said they also suspect the “opportunist transport leaders” may have been promised some of those vehicles, if not shares in new transport companies deploying such jeeps.
“It’s not for the welfare of riders, nor for the drivers and operators, and certainly not to address climate change,” San Mateo concluded. He scoffed at the Aquino government’s nerve for citing climate change in the jeepney phaseout, “when this government approved left and right new construction of dirty coal power plants.”