Duterte warns ‘communist front’ Piston of arrest

The Philippine Star
Duterte warns âcommunist frontâ Piston of arrest

“It is one big conspiracy. Right now, all of them are committing rebellion,” Duterte said. Edd Gumban, File

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte yesterday accused transport group Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operators Nationwide (PISTON) and militant groups Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and Karapatan of being legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

“It is one big conspiracy. Right now, all of them are committing rebellion,” Duterte said.

Jeepney drivers who continue to defy the transport modernization plan would be arrested, he said.

“You are giving me reason to arrest you. I will implement the law,” the President said during a summit on federalism in Naga City yesterday afternoon. 

Duterte said he would have PISTON members arrested should they prevent other drivers from plying the streets during transport strikes.

The President has been unfazed by the two-day transport strike launched by PISTON. He said he would not change his mind on the plan to modernize the country’s transport system.

Duterte said he would not give in to the demands of the drivers, even as PISTON leaders threatened to hold strikes every month until he changes his mind on the matter.

He has been rejecting PISTON’s request for dialogue.

The drivers have only until Dec. 31 to upgrade their vehicles. Jeepneys more than two decades old are to be phased out, Duterte said.

He said he is bent on protecting the health of the Filipinos over the interest of a few jeepney operators and drivers. 

Old engines, he said, emit too much carbon dioxide, which is adverse to one’s health.

“You better comply, otherwise I would have your old, unregistered jeepneys right before your eyes by Jan. 1 next year,” he said.

More strikes

After staging a two-day nationwide transport strike, PISTON warned of holding similar activities monthly should Duterte ignore their request for a dialogue.

PISTON wants the government to junk the plan to modernize the country’s public transport system by phasing out old and dilapidated jeepneys.

PISTON president George San Mateo issued the warning at the conclusion of the two-day transport boycott yesterday.

“If the President will still ignore us, we will hold strikes every month for we are left without a choice. The government has pushed us against the wall,” San Mateo said during a rally along Aurora Boulevard in Quezon City.

He denounced government’s pronouncement that it would proceed with the modernization program, wherein jeepneys 15 years old and older will be phased out.

The plan, PISTON said, would result in massive job loss among jeepney drivers and small operators.

“For commuters, it means an increase in the minimum fare to at least P20 with deregulated succeeding fare hikes and greater burdensome taxes,” San Mateo said.

He said their future boycotts could take longer than two days, noting the just concluded transport strike was effective as it compelled the government to suspend work and classes.

San Mateo said the two-day strike was successful as it paralyzed transportation by 90 percent all over the country.

He said about 200,000 PISTON members and 70,000 drivers from other groups joined the boycott.

The KMU said the transport group presented Duterte with alternatives to the jeepney phaseout during a dialogue at the Palace on July 18.

The KMU said Duterte rejected the proposal and told the group to first hold a two-month strike.

It said it was clear that the President had no intention to heed the demand of the transport sector.

The KMU said transport group leaders would not be intimidated by the government’s threat to cancel their franchises and file charges against them.

Minimal effect

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) said the strike had minimal effect and chided PISTON over alleged violence that erupted on the second day of the boycott.

LTFRB board member and spokesperson Aileen Lizada said only .00058 percent of the estimated 10 million commuters in Metro Manila were affected.

The strike had no effect in Ilocos, Cagayan Valley and Bicol as well as in the Visayas, Mindanao and Cordillera Administrative Region.

At least 25 percent of commuters were stranded in the cities of San Fernando and Angeles in Pampanga and 20 percent in San Pedro and Calamba, both in Laguna.

Lizada said they received reports that some group members broke the windshields of some jeepneys in Pampanga that did not join the strike.

The LTFRB belied San Mateo’s claim that the transport strike paralyzed the metropolis by 90 percent.

Jeepneys traveling along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City were either blocked or prevented from ferrying commuters, Lizada said.

She said she would file charges against San Mateo for allegedly violating the Public Service Law in connection with the strike.

She was heckled by a group of boycotting drivers when she went out to check the situation on the ground, Lizada said.

Jeepney drivers and operators described the government’s transport modernization plan as inhuman and without regard to their plight.

Although the government guaranteed a no downpayment policy in acquiring a new jeepney model and P80,000 subsidy for each of them, drivers and operators said a majority of them could not afford the monthly installment fee.

Local officials said just like on the first day, the second day of the transport strike had minimal effect on commuters.

Generally peaceful

The Philippine National Police (PNP) said the two-day strike was generally peaceful, except for pocket mass actions and public assemblies that were monitored in the metropolis.

National Capital Region Police Office Director Oscar Albayalde thanked transport leaders for policing their ranks.

“The transport strike was smooth and orderly. No harassment committed by boycotting drivers against their colleagues was reported,” Albayalde said.

Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada said the situation in the city yesterday was the same as in the previous day.

Estrada said the city was generally peaceful and that no untoward incident occurred during the boycott.

The trucks reserved to ferry stranded commuters were not used, Estrada said.

The same situation prevailed in Quezon City, according to city police director Chief Supt. Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar.

“It was peaceful with no untoward incidents. There were no reports of stranded passengers,” Eleazar said in a text message to The STAR.

The two-day strike benefited tricycle drivers in some parts of Caloocan, Malabon and Manila, where a majority of jeepney drivers supported the boycott.

Tricycle drivers earned extra money ferrying passengers in routes where jeepneys were scarce. They took advantage of the situation and charged commuters more than the usual rates.

Like on the first day, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority suspended the number-coding scheme, raising the volume of vehicles on the street despite the transport strike.

Classes and work in government offices were cancelled for two days in a row.

Lawmakers urged the administration to counter the transport strike, which they said made the government look helpless.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said the strike sends a wrong signal to the public that the government could not provide counter measures to mitigate its impact.

“It is not only classes and work that are affected but also financial services and the stock market,” Evardone said.

Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III said the government is not entirely helpless in handling the strike and lessening inconvenience of the riding public.

“The LTFRB and Land Transportation Office are not being taken seriously by striking operators and drivers because they were lenient with them in previous protest actions that paralyzed public transportation,” Albano said.

He said Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa should personally see to it that strikers do not resort to anarchy.

 Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo said the government should field state-owned buses to ferry passengers.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said the suspension of classes and government work was a wise decision to cushion the effects of the transport strike.

 “I don’t agree with these rampant strikes meant to paralyze the commuting public. Once is enough,” Gatchalian said, adding more than once is abuse. 

Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services, earlier said the boycott should prompt the Department of Transportation to review its implementation of the jeepney modernization program. – With Emmanuel Tupas, Mayen Jaymalin, Jose Rodel Clapano, Non Alquitran, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Rey Galupo, Perseus Echeminada, Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero, Ding Cervantes, Ramon Efren Lazaro, Victor Martin, Ben Serrano

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