Jeepney groups shun talks; strike plan gains backers

by Mar 1, 2023Featured Article, News

MANILA, Philippines — The weeklong strike planned next week by various public transport groups will push through despite a call for dialogue from Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista, an official of one of the organizers said on Tuesday.

“There will be no dialogue for now, I will stand my ground. We will proceed with this,” transport group Manibela president Mar Valbuena said in a press conference on Tuesday.

According to Valbuena, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board’s (LTFRB) Memorandum Circular No. 2023-013, which stipulates that franchises or provisional authorities (PAs) of traditional jeepneys will be valid only until June 30, should be scrapped first before they engage in any discussion.

Bautista on Tuesday said the government would be willing to discuss with transport groups the possible extension of the June 30 deadline for traditional jeepney operators to join cooperatives or corporations that will acquire modern public utility vehicles (PUVs).

However, he said the government would not scrap its PUV modernization program.

The official pointed out that the government needed to modernize PUVs for “a convenient, accessible, safe and secure and affordable” transport system.

Bautista told reporters on the sidelines of the Philippine Maritime Summit that the government was “very flexible” and would listen to the concerns of stakeholders.

He said he talked on Tuesday with Valbuena and noted that the transport leader was willing to have a dialogue to discuss what “needs to be corrected if there’s anything that we need to do.”

Piston support

Valbuena said on Monday that an estimated 40,000 traditional jeepneys and UV express vehicles in Metro Manila are expected to join the strike which would “ensure employees won’t be able to come to work.”

This number could swell as big transport group Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operators Nationwide (Piston) said it was ready to back the planned weeklong strike if the government would continue to “coerce” small operators of PUVs.

“[The planned strike] only shows that drivers and small operators are ready to protect their livelihood because their family lives depend on it, especially in this time of severe economic crisis,” Modesto Floranda, Piston national president, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Floranda underscored that mandating operators to consolidate their individual franchises under a cooperative was “wrong, deceitful and coercive” because it deprives them of rights and privileges as individual franchise holders.

As part of the government’s PUV modernization program, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) issued Order No. 2017-011, or the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines, on June 19, 2017, stating that only corporations or cooperatives with at least 15 modernized units would be allowed to get franchises covering major routes.

These modern jeepneys or minibuses with Euro 4 engines or electrically powered engines with solar panels for roofs worth P2.4 million to P2.8 million each are intended to replace the old traditional jeepneys.

Piston proposed that instead of importing minibuses or modernized jeepneys, the government should implement a “just transition program” that would support the local manufacturing industry and allow the rehabilitation of traditional jeepneys to carry cleaner engines.

This would not only save small-time operators money, according to the group, as “it can also further develop our local industries and create more domestic jobs.”

Transport ‘mafia’

Senators on Tuesday also passed a resolution urging the LTFRB to defer the June 30 deadline set by the LTFRB, blaming a purported “mafia” within the agency for the disorder that befell its PUV modernization program.

Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services, filed Resolution No. 507 “strongly” urging the LTFRB to postpone its planned phaseout program of traditional jeepneys until it has addressed the concerns raised by affected operators and drivers.

“The LTFRB seems to have fallen deaf to the hardships that commuters and drivers suffer from. If the LTFRB proceeds with the phaseout, it might result in 50,000 jeepneys being taken off the road. If transport groups proceed with their strike, that’s at least 40,000 jeepneys off the street starting March 6,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva and Sen. Raffy Tulfo did not mince words in calling out an alleged mafia that has been driving the policies of the LTFRB, in a supposed attempt to use the modernization program as a “cash cow.”

“The [operators and drivers] are forced to form cooperatives and are also being forced to buy from a designated manufacturer,” Villanueva claimed. “It’s obvious that this is the handiwork of a mafia.”