by Michelle Lado
Last March 17, various jeepney drivers and operators in the country conducted a transport strike to protest the PUV modernization program of the government.
According to the transport group PISTON (Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide), the protest centers in Metro Manila were situated in Cubao, Novaliches, Quezon City, Anda Circle, Monumento in Caloocan, and Alabang in Muntinlupa.
Protest areas were also identified in Cavite, Laguna, Rizal, and Batangas. The strike was anticipated by Malacañang with an announcement of a class suspension nationwide.
The strike was part of a series of protest actions by transport groups decrying the jeepney phaseout as jeepney drivers, most if not all of them are living below poverty line, will lose their source of livelihood.
These jeepneys, which are described as dilapidated and hazardous, will be replaced by an “environment-friendly” public transport system that consists of Beep Jeeps, EURO 4 units, and other solar-powered and electric vehicles.
A modern jeepney costs P1.5 million and operators need to pay the monthly installation of P27,000 to acquire the unit.
There are around 500,000 jeepney drivers and operators around the country.
PISTON announced that the strike will only happen on March 17. But the following day (March 18), Malacañang officials announced that they “will call for a class suspension in Metro Manila starting March 20, until Friday, March 23.”
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque cited “imminent or actual threat” in the wake of the March 17 strike as the reason behind the new class suspension.
Memorandum Circular no. 42, signed by Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea, indicated that the announcement was approved on March 19.
The late announcement on class suspension—despite the no-strike announcement from transport groups on the days Malacañang mentioned—caused a wave of great alarm and disturbance among students, parents, and teachers. Classes were already ongoing, and many students were in the middle of taking their exams.
This sudden disruption in school operations in Metro Manila led to the demonization of jeepney drivers and operators, who were blamed for the “imminent or actual threat.”
Groups and sectors called this move by Malacañang as treacherous since it wanted to take revenge on PISTON by making people despise the transport group and the others who took part in the March 17 strike.
The student government of the Ateneo de Manila University questioned the memorandum and urged its community to defy the class suspension and push through with the holding of classes.
“The Sanggunian believes that the Executive Order’s claims are baseless and pose no imminent threat to us as students,” the Ateneo student government said on Twitter.
On the other hand, supporters of the jeepney phaseout have legitimate justification for the modernization. They cite the pollution caused by smoke-belching jeepneys, and the danger this pollution poses to the passengers and commuters, as well as the drivers who seem to lack discipline on the road.
They also make mention of the need to be at par with the international transport system, and that the traditional jeepney just does not cut it anymore in the kind of an ideal world we have now set for our present and future.
Jeepneys are one of the major causes of heavy traffic, and the grave threat they pose to the welfare of our health and the environment must end.
Indeed, for many, modernization is seen as the only key to solving our messed-up transportation system.
The government is determined to enforce the jeepney phaseout despite the paralyzing strikes by those who will be gravely affected by it.
The initiative to modernize the public transport system started in 2015 and the Duterte administration is adamant to see its implementation in its time.
LOAN AT 6% INTEREST
The government offers financial compensation for the drivers and operators whose jeepneys will be phased out.
As each vehicle will cost about P1.5 million, the government will loan to the driver and he is expected to pay in seven years at 6% interest. The government will cover the 5% but not more than P80,000. The driver is left on his own to pay the rest. This means the driver needs to fork out around P800 a day from his income for the day to meet a mortgage that is beyond his capability to cover.
The PUV modernization program overlooks the fact that jeepney drivers are earning only P200-P400 a day for more than half a day of plying the road. There seems to be no escape from poverty for them as they are driven to debt yet again in this modernization scheme.
According to PISTON, only Toyota, Mitsubishi, Chrysler and Nissan will gain from the jeepney phaseout and not the welfare of the Filipino commuters and jeepney drivers.
These multinational corporations will ink a business deal with the government as they are the ones contracted to locally manufacture the modernized vehicles numbering to about 200,000 by 2020.
“How can jeepney drivers and small-time operators purchase these modernized vehicles when their take-home income every day barely puts food on the table three times a day, with oil prices going up three times a month?” PISTON said.
The reality is all the jeepney drivers and operators want to have a modernized transport system. They, too, wish to see the day when driving the old jeepney will no longer put their passengers and the environment in danger.
Believe it or not, PISTON wants safety for everyone which unfortunately the jeepney can not guarantee at all times. They, too, want the Philippines to be put in the international standard when it comes to how efficient our public transport is. But they are in a situation that they did not choose. They are merely victims of a systemic failure that addresses the wrong problems in society.
When they phase out the jeepneys, who advances and who does not advance? Only a certain group of people will benefit from it, while those of us who do not have the means to catch up are further left behind. Policies such as the PUV modernization program must be for all the people, and not just for the privileged few.
If there is something that must be phased out it is the outdated way of thinking of the powers-that-be that the democratic right to livelihood of everyone is their decision to make.
The strikes will continue as long as the imminent, nay, actual threat of the PUV modernization program puts the livelihood of thousands of jeepney drivers and operators all over Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao in unprecedented peril.
Michelle Lado is a writer, poet, humans rights activist, and multimedia practitioner.