Government urged to address commuters' woes in shift to GCQ 

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Government urged to address commuters' woes in shift to GCQ 
Commuters wait for free rides on Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City yesterday, the first day of the general community quarantine under which limited public transport is allowed.
Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — Senators Risa Hontiveros and Nancy Binay on Tuesday urged the government to address the chaotic state of public transport as Metro Manila eases into a general community quarantine (GCQ).

The senators highlighted the challenges faced by commuters on Monday, thousands of whom were left stranded and scrambling to find rides because of a lack of public transportation.

“It is so unfair to commuters that there are no restrictions on private vehicles. Their choices are so limited. The [transportation department] knew that Metro Manila and the rest of the regions [would] be transitioning to new normal. They knew that 30% of those of those in NCR [would be] going to work by June 1 — and they deployed a free ride truck which [breaches] all health protocols, particularly physical distancing,” Binay said in a mix of Filipino and English.

Transportation Secretary Art Tugade said that the inconvenience to commuters could not be avoided as the government is still adjusting to the general community quarantine. The quarantine began in March.

Hontiveros also pointed out other dangers posed by the current state of public transport in the country. 

"The lack of transport options is not just an emerging crisis for commuters, it is also a serious health hazard. Limiting passengers will not achieve anything if on the streets they are exposed to health risks while lined up in close quarters,” she said in English and Filipino. 

Metro Manila is considered an epicenter of the COVID-19 disease. 

'Abandonment' of the transportation sector 

In her statement, Binay also accused the government of abandoning what she called one of the most vulnerable sectors of the economy. She said 250,000 jeepney drivers and their families are suffering under this new normal. 

Traditional jeepneys, which are among the main modes of transportation for most Filipinos, are currently not allowed on the road. Binay called this ban "unrealistic, anti-commuter [and] anti-worker.” 

"Obviously, [the Department of Transportation] 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," she added. 

Meanwhile, Hontiveros urged the government to adopt a service contracting program with the transportation sector, citing successful efforts by local government units to transport their frontliners during the enhanced community quarantine. 

Service contracting means the government will pay transport operators to run their routes, an approach previously suggested by transportation sector advocates.

“If expanded on a national scale, it will be a great way to immediately increase the passenger capacity of our transport systems in Metro Manila and elsewhere," she said. 

Labor group slams Roque for his remarks on commuters 

Labor group Defend Jobs Philippines on Monday slammed presidential spokesperson Harry Roque after he blamed commuters for violating general community quarantine rules. 

“Secretary Roque must stop blaming our people and making them appear as ‘pasaway’ or violators of the GCQ guidelines. If only the government [was] scientific, objective and effective enough in implementing pro-people rules then we [would] have not faced the chaotic GCQ implementation experience last Monday,” Defend Jobs Philippines spokesperson Thadeus Ifurung said. 

The labor group criticized the government for what they called a failed implementation of general community quarantine on Monday. 

They said that the lack of jeepneys caused people to flock to the free rides offered by the government, violating its own social distancing rules. 

"The government must fix its own rules and focus on how to craft policies and orders that will provide sufficient mode of transport for our people and at the same time will ensure our workers' health and safety at all times,” Ifurung said. 

Roque has issued a warning that the public’s failure to observe physical distancing and minimum health standards may result in the reimposition of an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). 

Metro Manila, which makes up a third of the country’s gross domestic product, shifted from a modified ECQ to a more relaxed GCQ yesterday. 

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