By Taj Lagulao
As parts of the country eased into General Community Quarantine (GCQ), six jeepney drivers were arrested after taking to the streets of Monumento, Caloocan to protest the government’s lack of assistance and plans with the jeepney phaseout.
At least 30 jeepney drivers participated in the rally. As they were about to finish, police officers from the Northern Police District asked to talk to them.
Though observing physical distancing and face mask usage, the jeepney operators were instead taken into custody and charged with “disobedience to social distancing”, with a P3000 punishment. Their mugshots and fingerprints were also taken.
Included among those arrested were Ruben “Bong” Baylon, Deputy Secretary General of Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON), as well as Severino Ramos, Arsenio Ymas, Elmer Cordero, Wilson Ramilla, and Ramon Paloma.
Shortly after, a senior consultant of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) confirmed that the phaseout of traditional jeepneys would take place this year.
On June 1, PISTON mobilized in various parts of the country for their “Busina para sa Balik-Pasada”, which took place in Monumento, Quezon City, and other places.
The action came as progressive organizations criticized the LTFRB Memo Circular 2020-017 or Guidelines for Public Transportation in Areas Under General Community Quarantine. Under the memo, only jeepneys who met the LTFRB requirements were to be used during the pandemic. In addition, the memo also noted that public transportation could only be allowed in routes approved by the DOTr, with operators needing to have special permits to pass through.
In response, PISTON said that the goal should be to help employees return to work during the GCQ.
In a statement, PISTON said, “Sa pagluluwag sa General Community Quarantine, layunin na unti-unting makabalik trabaho ang lahat upang makabawi ang ekonomiya, at muling magkaroon ng kabuhayan para hindi nakaasa palagi sa ayuda.”
Further, they denied the claim that jeepneys are rusted and broken down, emphasizing that their vehicles were certified roadworthy by the Land Transportation Office (LTO).
Additionally, they emphasized that their franchises are legal and that there is a need for drivers to resume their jobs to help workers reach their jobs, rather than for the government to force operators to buy new vehicles.
“Hindi tutuong ang mga jeepney ay buluk-bulok, dahil may Rehistro – pasado na sa LTO Inspection at Emission Testing, kaya’t Roadworthy na! Saka mayroon pang legal na Prankisa ang mga jeepney, kaya’t bakit kailangan kumuha ng Special Permit?,” said PISTON national president Mody Floranda.
George San Mateo, PISTON president emeritus, echoed similar sentiments. In a Facebook post, San Mateo explained how public utility jeepney (PUJ) drivers exerted effort in placing plastic barriers in seats to observe social distancing, while adding that the vehicles have been certified prior to the lockdown last March 16, 2020.
He asked the government to think of the countless jeepney drivers who have had no livelihood for the past two months and still have not received government aid, as well as the millions of workers who rely on public transportation everyday.
“Sila ang mayorya nang mananakay na walang sariling sasakyan na araw araw ay nagtitiyaga na lang maglakad, mag-hitch sa private vehicles o magbiskleta sa gitna ng matinding init ng araw. Mga minimum wage earners ang mayorya sa mga yan walang kakayanang mag-taxi o sumakay sa Grab,” San Mateo said.
In light of these issues, the Move as One Coalition, a coalition of 133 organizations and over 10,000 people, said on May 30 that the government can implement a service contracting scheme where the government hires jeepney drivers to fulfill transportation needs.
This would work on a per kilometer fee basis, so that the drivers would be provided a stable income regardless of the number of passengers they have.
Talks about a possible jeepney phaseout have been around since 2017. DOTr senior consultant Albert Suansing said the phaseout of old jeepneys would take place this year, saying that jeepney operators have had a lot of time to take part in the government’s public utility vehicle (PUV) modernization program.
Suansing said, “Before the COVID-19 situation, they were given until June 30 to consolidate their franchises and start forming a legal entity like a cooperative. The LTFRB [Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board] will issue franchise[s] for them. We told them if they can’t consolidate their franchise then they lose the chance of being given another franchise to operate in that route.”
He added that old jeepneys would still be able to operate as the deadline for consolidation has been extended to December.
Politicians have also lambasted DOTr for its “poor planning” as mass transportation proved insufficient in the onset of the GCQ, leading to many commuters in Metro Manila being stranded and waiting for hours for a ride.
House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Representative Isagani Zarate said that with the GCQ, a mass transportation crisis was likely to happen due to the limited options of transportation for commuters. He added that 50% of Public Utility Vehicles (PUV) operators should be allowed to work, so that they would have a source of income.
“But, in the absence of this kind of efficient mass transport system, hindi katanggaptanggap na samantalahin ng DoTr ang kasalukuyang krisis para I-phase out ang mga jeepneys at iratsada pa din ang so-called modernization na itinutulak ng malalaking negosyante ng sasakyan.”
He added that a paradigm shift prioritizing service over business was needed, pointing out the irony of small operators being ignored while car manufacturers receive subsidy.
Senator Joel Villanueva noted that in the rush to jumpstart the economy, the government has forgotten about the mobility of our workers.
“For industries to restart successfully, it relies on the labor of the people to spark the economic recovery.”
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said that the chaos that took place yesterday was a result of poor planning and lack of foresight from the government.
“The DOTr could have done better. It cannot go on like this. If we are to revive the economy, then we have to make sure that our workers get to their work without compromising their health and that of others.”
Senator Nancy Binay said, “What happened to foresight? Mabuti sila’t aircon ang mga sasakyan. Eh kung subukan kaya ng mga opisyal ng DOTr magcommute mula sa kani-kanilang bahay papasok sa opisina nila (sa Clark City o Ortigas)? Dapat maramdaman nila ang hirap na pinagdadaanan ng mga commuter. They won’t be able to plan well if they don’t feel and understand the people’s daily struggles.”
“Obviously, DOTr is favoring a certain segment of the mass transport sector, while ignoring and isolating the biggest public transport segment which the majority of the commuting public depend on,” Binay said. [P]
Photo from Piston/The Philippine Star.