“Our proposal details steps for the modernization and nationalization of our mass transport system. But Duterte personally rejected our request and instead told us to hold a two-month strike first, and he would give us a permit.” – Piston
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The two-day transport strike led by the Pagkakaisa ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON) against the jeepney phaseout, with planned corporate capture of this mode of transport, was concluded early evening today, October 17. Piston vowed bigger and more powerful transport strikes and people’s protests in the coming months.
During the two-day strike, the Duterte government responded by suspending classes on all levels and public offices nationwide. The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) spokesperson issued threats against the strikers and belittled the strike’s impact. The police tried to limit the public space occupied by protesters and the visibility of the program and placards of the strikers and their supporters. Despite these, there was a marked reduction in the number of jeepneys plying the country’s thoroughfares.
Piston estimated a 90 percent transport stoppage in many routes in Metro Manila. The paralysis was big if not bigger in some provinces such as in Pampanga, Rizal, Bicol, Baguio City, Bulacan, GMA Cavite, Butuan City, Surigao City, Davao, Nueva Vizcaya, and various routes in Metro Manila.
In Metro Manila, the areas where the strikers and supporters held day-long programs during the two-day strike were constantly surrounded and surveilled by policemen. In Cubao, Quezon City where the national leaders of Piston and Kilusang Mayo Uno attended the strike’s program, a truck filled with police shields, helmets and truncheons was seen parked a few meters away from the picket center.
Asked why they were almost at a touching distance with protesters and that by doing so they were censoring their placards, one of the policemen admitted that they had been ordered to do so. Previous mass actions saw the police a few meters away from protesters. In Pampanga, the Philippine National Police Special Action Force, armed with high-powered rifles, watched over the drivers’ picket.
During the two-day transport strike, tensions erupted in the Cubao mass-up center as the police tried to drive away some of the protesters off the street. Some were forced to stay on the sidewalk and near a bank’s facade but the security guards kept a close watch and told them off sitting down on the floor.
President Rodrigo Duterte in a speech in Camarines Sur on October 17 warned the protesting drivers: “I’ll give you until the end of the month or until the end of the year. Comply because come January 1, if I see an unregistered jeepney, old ones, I will have it towed in front of you. If you want disarray, I have lots of policemen.”
Duterte and the LTFRB maintained that they are doing this for the sake of jeepney modernization. But that is not really the case, said Piston and various groups including the think-tank Ibon Philippines. Having studied the government’s Omnibus Franchising Guide, they concluded that these are not really after ‘modernization.’
‘Govt has no mass transport modernization plan’
During the transport strike, reports that mostly came out, including the statements of the LTFRB and Duterte, centered on the issue of jeepney phaseout and replacement, and the high costs which the drivers/operators are expected to bear.
But this is just one aspect or stage of the government’s plan. The other is corporate capture. Steve Ranjo, Piston secretary-general, told Bulatlat the drivers and operators cannot last with either of the two – “it’s a whole package meant to hand over the jeepney transport to corporate interests.”
He said the government has been saying that the manufacturing of the new jeepney will be done in the Philippines in order to make the plan acceptable to the people. However, if the fleet management program would be enforced, large corporations such as the Ayalas and Pangilinans would displace small, independent driver-operators’ groups of today. He said what remains then of jeepney transportation will be cornered by the bigger corporations.
Govt ‘marketing’ for vehicle manufacturers, transport consortiums
In a joint statement, the Kilusang Mayo Uno and Piston said the Department of Transportation’s Omnibus Franchising Guidelines is not a modernization program but a marketing campaign for Toyota, Mitsubishi, the Chrysler-owned Comet E-jeep and other imported vehicles.
“They are forcing us to buy new units we can’t afford and, using the Filipino people’s taxes, to owe debts we can never repay,” said Piston national president George San Mateo. (Read here about the government’s 5-6-7 financing scheme for jeepney operators’ purchase of P1.5 million jeeps.)
This is apparently just the first stage in the scheme to “completely hand-over our country’s mass transport system to the monopoly control of Duterte’s cronies and campaign funders, the Ayalas, the Pangilinans, the Aboitizes and the Cojuangcos, under his Build-Build-Build program,” Piston and KMU said.
They added that these “oligarchs who now hold contracts for the ‘PUV modernization’ through the automated fare collection system, the fleet management scheme and other PUV based infrastructure projects for the OFG, are the same oligarchs that have been awarded contracts for the privatization of other vital public utilities and services under the Build-Build-Build program.”
San Mateo said they have always been for modernization of the country’s mass transportation system. They presented their proposed people-centered jeepney modernization to President Duterte in a dialogue in Malacañang last July 18.
“Our proposal details steps for the modernization and nationalization of our mass transport system. But Duterte personally rejected our request and instead told us to hold a two-month strike first, and he would give us a permit,” San Mateo said.
He has previously reminded President Duterte regarding this strike permit, saying it runs counter to what the LTFRB has been doing, threatening the strikers.
The LTFRB has filed charges three weeks ago against George San Mateo of Piston for encouraging the country’s drivers and operators to launch a strike. Lizada said they filed it with the Quezon City Prosecutors Office, but Piston and San Mateo have not received a copy or details of the said filing.
“It is evident that the Duterte government has no intention of heeding the demand of the public transport sector and the riding public. Instead, he is hell-bent on ridding us of our livelihood and burdening our commuters and taxpayers to favor the interests of his big business cronies and foreign auto industry giants,” San Mateo said at the conclusion of their two-day strike.
Piston said in a statement they are not intimidated by Duterte’s threats to cancel their franchises and file trumped-up charges against them.
As Duterte’s phase-out program would result in massive job loss among jeepney drivers and small operators, and fare increases that will burden the commuters by at least 20 pesos more, for starters, Piston and KMU reiterate calls to the public and to other transport groups to support and join their next protests and strike.