“Through standards only a few foreign corporations could comply with, and through selling vehicles only they could manufacture, jeepney operators are subjected to the monopoly of these corporations, and they would be mired in debt.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Jeepney drivers and operators in Metro Manila and various provinces nationwide held a transport strike this Monday February 27. They are seeking to halt the looming ban of their jeepneys and the government program aimed at giving control of the jeepney transport sector to corporations.
Lawyer Aileen Lizada, board member and spokesperson of Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), threatened the participants in the strike with punishments such as possible cancellation of their franchise to operate.
She told the media early morning of the national transport strike that their personnel and members of the Philippine National Police are on the ground gathering data about the strikers.
“We have a way of knowing who they are,” Lizada said.
The nationwide transport strike has led to the cancelation of classes in Metro Manila and some provinces. The government deployed buses to assist stranded commuters but in many places, these are reportedly not enough. The impact of the strike was felt as early as 8 a.m. in some major thoroughfares of Metro Manila, in Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo and parts of Bicol.
Still, the LTFRB spokesperson belittled the groups leading the strike. She said the “major transport groups,” “the bigger groups,” have not joined the transport strike.
“Only Piston and Stop & Go continue to fail to understand (the jeepney) modernization,” Lizada told the media.
But in an interview with George San Mateo, national president of Piston, he clarified that the government is not really moving toward “modernization” as the commuters and even the jeepney drivers and operators would want them to do. He said the government is pursuing corporatization of the jeepney transport sector. Though it is being sold as for cleaner air, for safer transport, and for responding to other wishes of the commuters, the jeepney modernization being pursued by the government, according to San Mateo, is merely a transfer of jeepney transport sector to corporate entities.
He said the government and whoever have stakes there have found some allies among other transport groups. Since 2015 Piston and other transport groups defending the jeepneys and calling for national industrialization have named some “yellow transport leaders” as collaborators and business partners in the planned corporate takeover of jeepney transport sector.
San Mateo said the government, through its transportation officials, has been clouding the issue by calling it modernization when in fact it is all about transferring the jeepney transport sector to bigger corporate entities.
Last year, the No to Jeepney Phaseout Coalition welcomed in its ranks individual member drivers and operators from transport organizations such as Pasang Masda, ACTO, 1-UTAK, FEJODAP, ALTODAP and LTOP. They reported that its leaders have been “selling them out” in the corporate takeover of jeepney transport.
Transport strike earns people’s support
In a statement, the labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) expressed support of the transport strike.
“We join our transport workers in calling on President Duterte to junk the jeepney phaseout scheme,” Elmer Labog of KMU said. He reasoned that the program will result not only in the loss of livelihood for hundreds of thousands of jeepney drivers and operators but also in greater woes to commuters, including unabated fare hikes and loss of a cheap and dependable mode of transportation.
He cautioned Duterte against pushing through with the phaseout program, saying his administration is expanding its list of broken promises of change by upholding an anti-people program of the previous Aquino administration.
The proposed “modernization” of the jeepney includes taking out of the streets jeepneys that are 15 years or older. In its place it will require operators to buy jeepneys compliant with “guidelines on low-carbon, low-emission technology.”
According to PISTON, drivers are being forced to buy e-jeepneys and Euro 4 engines, which cost millions of pesos, way more than the average income of a jeepney driver.
Lizada of LTFRB described this as “misinformation” by Piston. However, she just reiterated the transportation department’s thrust of “modernization” and did not belie the assertions of Piston, the Stop & Go coalition or the No To Jeepney Phaseout coalition.
“Through standards only a few foreign corporations could comply to, and through selling vehicles only they could manufacture, jeepney operators are subjected to the monopoly of these corporations, and would be mired in debt,” said Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago.
Aside from the transportation department’s order seeking the phaseout and corporatization of jeepney transport, there are moves to legislate the same in Congress.
Under House Bill 4334 (Traffic Crisis Act of 2016 Maki-isa, Makisama, Magka-isa) and Senate Bill 1284 (Traffic and Congestion Crisis Act of 2016), existing routes and public transportation franchises would be assessed by the Department of Transportation (DOTr).
From her preliminary studies of these proposals, Kabataan Rep. Elago found out that in this new scheme, jeepney franchises are projected to be regulated and reduced.
“Franchises will now require a minimum of 20 units, amounting to P7 million of capital, effectively displacing single franchise owners,” she said in a statement today.
Without saying so, the proposal, she said, will in effect cause a corporate takeover of public transport. “Already saturated in other markets, corporations are now bent on infiltrating the public transport landscape,” Elago said. Much like how the previous Aquino administration’s PPPs (public-private partnerships) promoted privatization of social services and reduction of state support in social services and vital services, jeepney transport “modernization” entails handing it over to corporate interests through a strong government support.
“This program is vulgarly anti-poor and pro-oligarchs as it would rob small jeepney drivers and operators of their livelihood and hand over the entire PUJ operations to the monopoly of private big businesses,” said Labog, chairman of labor center KMU.