“What is not being explained fully to the public is the component of corporate takeover and imminent threat of fare hikes in the government’s so-called jeepney modernization program.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — Around 60 transport leaders in Metro Manila allied with Piston announced an impending transport strike this October 16 to 17. In a press conference held in Quezon City, October 9, they appealed for public support and understanding for the upcoming two-day nationwide strike. They are determined to hold the strike despite the threats from Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) that they would likely be banned or denied a franchise if they go on a strike.
The LTFRB threat is really empty and meaningless, said George San Mateo, national chairperson of Piston and one of the conveners of the No to Jeepney Phase out Coalition. Under the government’s planned Jeepney phase out, today’s largely individual operators will have no place in the ‘fleet management’ or corporate scheme, so the threat is already there whether they strike or not, San Mateo explained.
The two-day strike’s demand is for the Duterte administration to junk the jeepney phase-out program. The said program was initiated under the former Aquino administration and being promoted and implemented as “jeepney modernization program” under the Duterte administration.
Piston has also led a one-day nationwide transport strike and people’s protest last February with the same battlecry against jeepney phaseout.
A strike with ends ultimately benefiting the riders?
In Metro Manila, there will be five “major mass up areas” during the two-day strike. These are in Alabang, Monumento LRT, Cubao, Novaliches, and Commonwealth Avenue. Many public utility jeepney routes that pass through these major thoroughfares will be on strike, according to local transport leaders and small operators such as those from Makati, Alabang-South Metro Manila, Cavite, Cubao, Rizal, San Pedro Laguna, Camanava, and many others in Metro Manila. Nationwide, the No to Jeepney Phase out Coalition is coordinating with many transport groups in various districts and regions.
Leaders of Piston and allied transport groups said they would strive to get the participation of the majority. “Of course we’re hoping for at least 70 percent to 80 percent participation in the strike,” San Mateo told reporters on how much “paralysis” to expect. He was as yet unsure of how many will strike, saying the group is still in coordination with other transport organizations. But surrounding him at the press conference were transport leaders and operators in Metro Manila with thousands of combined jeepney units under them.
“We’re calling on President Duterte to implement instead a genuine national land reform and national industrialization, so that we will have the capacity to manufacture the jeepneys here in the Philippines and not anymore be forced to rely on the oversupply or junk of other countries,” said a leader of Piston in the National Capital Region, Modesto Floranda.
While the immediate effect of the planned strike is the difficulty for millions of commuters nationwide, the transport leaders explained that if their demands were to be met, it would be fully in the interest of the same commuters.
The ‘fake’ modernization program for the jeepney, they said, will drive up unemployment as it “massacres” the jobs of jeepney drivers and operators and at the same time open the way for monopoly control of jeepney transport and fare hikes.
This will edge out nearly 300,000 small operators, according to Piston estimates.
In the end, around 4.5 million families stand to lose livelihood and income, San Mateo said.
“The commuters are being deceived by the government who misrepresents the intent of jeepney phase out as so-called ‘modernization’,” San Mateo said at the press conference.
“We recognize the desire of the riders for a safe, efficient and comfortable ride,” San Mateo replied to questions about netizens’ comments regarding much-needed improvements to the jeepney and mass transportation.
He said they, too, want improvements to the public utility vehicles. But what is not being explained fully to the public, he told reporters, is the component of corporate takeover and imminent threat of fare hikes in the government’s so-called jeepney modernization program.
“They want to take away from small operators and drivers their current livelihood to hand over to the monopoly control of big foreign and local businesses,” San Mateo said of the government’s Omnibus Franchising Guide.
“Only big transport corporations can come up with over 20 million pesos ($385 thousand) to comply with the new guidelines of the Department of Transportation,” said Ceasar Wadwadan, president of Bay-yo Transport Association. A jeepney driver since 1980 and jeepney driver-operator since 1984, his group count 500 members with approximately 2,500 jeepneys plying the road.
The jeepney phase-out program will be implemented starting two months from now, from January 2018. It forces public utility jeepney drivers and operators to purchase a minimum of ten ‘brand new’ PUJ units which cost over P1.6 million to P1.8 million ($31 thousand to $35 thousand) each and will be operated under a ‘fleet management’ scheme. The Omnibus Franchising Guidelines prescribed also that transport fares would be collected through the ‘beep card’ automated collection system owned and operated by the big business Ayala-Pangilinan consortium which Piston said also has a monopoly control over the public-private-run MRT-LRT.
The workers’ group Kilusang Mayo Uno called on the riding public, especially the workers, students, and farmers who make up most of their riders, to support the drivers and operators “against the corporate monopoly control of our mass transport system.”
“Duterte is conniving with his big business and foreign auto-industry giants in completing the corporate monopoly control of our mass transport system,” said Elmer Labog, KMU chairperson. He called on the riding public and all PUJ drivers and operators nationwide to join the strike and show President Duterte that they will not give up their livelihood and the future of their families to big businesses. He said workers are also for demanding a nationalized, safe, efficient and affordable mass transport system.