IBON Foundation cited medical and transport studies all over the world proving how limited ventilation will likely spread COVID-19.
Photo from Eloisa Lopez/Reuters
As modern jeepneys hit the roads of Metro Manila this week as a deemed solution to gradually increase the number of public utility vehicles (PUVs) in the nation’s capital, traditional jeepney operators and drivers are still in limbo as the government’s Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) categorized them on the lowest priority in the hierarchy of public transportation due to possible health concerns.
Economic think tank IBON Foundation seems to challenge the said IATF guideline by explaining that traditional open air jeepneys have advantages over the modern air-conditioned ones, as vehicles with poor ventilation can easily be contaminated by the virus.
“Traditional open-air jeepney is likely even safer against COVID-19 than its air-conditioned modernized counterpart… Most coronavirus transmissions are acknowledged to occur via droplet infection, from coughing and sneezing, and partly through contaminated surfaces,” IBON said.
IATF is still considering if they will approve the comeback of traditional jeepneys on the road, as jeepney operators should find a way to modify seating arrangements to observe physical distancing with one another. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque also claimed that physical distancing is difficult in traditional jeepneys as passengers are facing one another.
However, the think tank explained that despite the physical distancing measures being enforced in modern jeepneys, limited air circulation on air conditioned jeepneys will likely pose risk of infections than natural ventilation of traditional jeepneys.
“Nonetheless, recent studies show that the number of pathogens increases considerably in enclosed spaces and that regular ventilation reduces the risk of infection. Despite physical distancing, enclosed modern jeepneys can become centers for spreading the virus compared to the natural ventilation of traditional jeepneys,” they said.
IBON cited medical and transport studies all over the world to prove that limited ventilation will likely spread COVID-19. One of them was the study conducted by medical researchers from University of Amsterdam that small cough droplets, potentially containing the virus, can stay in the air of enclosed spaces especially when poorly ventilated.
To back up their claim even further, they also mentioned the study of UITP (Union Internationale des Transports Publics) or International Association of Public Transport, which warned institutions that public transport vehicles are “high risk environments” due to the “confined space and limited ventilation,” that prompted countries such as Thailand, India, and China to improve natural ventilation in their public transport.
Moreover, the IBON called out the Duterte administration for using the pandemic as an excuse to push the agenda of the controversial jeepney modernization program, which resulted in the suffering of both drivers and commuters amidst the national public health emergency and economic recession.
“With the pandemic still ongoing, insisting on jeepney modernization unnecessarily puts commuters at risk of possible airborne coronavirus infections… Yet the government’s narrow-minded focus on corporate-driven jeepney modernization threatens to forego this important built-in advantage in the mass transport system.” they explained.
Solons, transport group grill LTFRB, DOTR
Senator Nancy Binay stated that the Department of Transportation (DOTR) and the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) should stop pursuing the jeepney modernization program if they don’t have concrete programs and aid for the affected drivers.
“Masakit tanggapin na tila hinayaan na lamang ng gobyerno na unti-unting maupos ang kabuhayan ng ating mga jeepney driver… Ang pagsusulong ng modernization program ay dapat inclusive at ‘di exclusive na pumapabor sa isang sektor,” Binay said. “Hindi tama na pagkaitan natin ng trabaho at kabuhayan ang ating mga kababayan habang may pandemya.”
Regarding the estimated loss on the drivers’ livelihood, IBON Foundation reported that the government jeepney ban has already cost drivers around P78,000. The group also explained that the government ‘has been insensitive and stingy assistance has pushed jeepney drivers and their families into poverty.’
In an online congressional hearing, Senior Citizens Partylist Representative Francisco Datol Jr. stated that LTFRB should be abolished as they neglect the concerns of the traditional jeepney drivers.
“Ngayon, nakita naman natin, ang inuuna nila’y bus, inuuna yung kung anu-ano pa, may mga airconditioned jeep pa, [pero] ‘yang mga jeep nawawala… Ang nangyayari dito tatlong linggo na kaming binobola, tatlong buwan na ‘yung giyera natin. Yung pandemic ang pakiramdam namin diyan giyera,” the lawmaker said.
After the confrontation with several congressmen, LTFRB Chair Martin Delgra vowed in the congressional hearing that traditional jeepneys alongside with UV express can hit the road starting June 29.
Meanwhile, transport group PISTON stated that state regulators are experimenting policies which led to the loss of livelihood of drivers and the daily suffering of commuters due to the ban.
“Patuloy na pagpapahirap sa driver at taumbayan, iyan ang ginagawa ng DOTR-LTFRB, sa pagpupumilit sa jeepney phaseout. Sa kagustuhang ipatupad na ang PUV Modernization, patuloy na pinaglalakad ang mga manggagawa, empleyado, frontliners at iba pa nating kababayan… Binabale-wala ng gobyerno ang mahalagang papel ng jeepney na sa mga naunang survey pa lang ay sumasagot na sa 9 million passenger trips sa Metro Manila,” the transport group said.
Over the recent weeks, jeepney drivers are now occupying the streets to beg for money to sustain the daily living expenses of their families. Drivers were even detained due to their call for help, as what the public has seen on Piston 6.
Top officials stand in solidarity with traditional jeepney drivers
Vice President Leni Robredo on Sunday urged the government to not use the pandemic as an opportunity to push through the modernization program and they should consider the welfare of jeepney drivers who lost their daily income since the shutdown of mass public transport.
“Kung ipipilit mo iyon, na hindi kayang mag-modernize as of this time, at hindi mo ipapakayod, e ‘di pinaboran mo na naman iyong mga mayroon. Ang kawawa naman iyong mga wala,” she said. “Parang lalong inaapakan iyong dati nang nakadapa. So iyong sa akin lang, sana mas maging compassionate iyong LTFRB dito, iyong DOTr, na okay naman na gawin iyong modernization ngayon, pero siguruhin na wala namang maiiwan.”
In addition, Duterte appointee and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin suggested that traditional jeepneys should be retained with improved engines, instead of replacing them with modernized ones.
“Keep the old jeepneys. Did you see the new one? It looks like an inflated condom. It shows what Filipinos can do with next to nothing after a world war. Get only Sarao to build the same jeepneys, retaining the traditional look, just improve the engine.” he said. [P]