Jeepney drivers have not received aid months into quarantine — Piston

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Jeepney drivers have not received aid months into quarantine â Piston
Jeepney Drivers in Caloocan City who are not yet allowed to operate ask for alms amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left millions of Filipinos jobless due to to the government's measures against the virus.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Five months after the coronavirus-induced quarantines prompted the suspension of mass transportation, jeepney drivers who have been barred from plying their usual routes and earning a living still have not received any aid from the government, a group said on Tuesday. 

Speaking in an interview aired over DZMM TeleRadyo, Mody Floranda, president of transport group Piston, said that the group's members have been engaging in dialogue with the Department of Social Welfare and Development, which handles the government's social amelioration program for sectors affected by the pandemic.

"Right now, some of our drivers and operators are still hoping to get their cash and material aid...we see how drivers and operators have had to take to the streets to beg just to be able to provide for their families again," Floranda said in Filipino. 

"Most of this has not been given yet. It's getting confusing now. In five months, we've filed so many documents with the DSWD, with the [Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board.] It's the second time they've promised aid for us," he added. 

In mid-July, the government allowed a total of 6,002 jeepneys back on the road to ply 49 routes as part of a "partial resumption" amid the shortage of mass transportation during the general community quarantine—which Piston at the time said was only a small fraction of the 74,000 public utility jeepneys idled following the suspension of mass transportation.

This came after a long waiting period as the transportation department continued to push for its phaseout of the Kings of the Road as they are called. Floranda also pointed out that this came to yet another stop once modified enhanced community quarantine was announced at the start of August, which only left the drivers the latter half of July to earn on limited capacity for their jeepneys. 

According to the Piston leader, the DSWD asked the group to submit another masterlist for drivers and operators in need of assistance, after they had already submitted one to the LTFRB previously.

"They should already have a basis to ensure who should be given aid or the social amelioration program, but until now, we are being asked to apply for it again...We are being treated as though we are children being asked to find a needle in a haystack. We don't even know where we should get the aid, and who is actually tasked with helping the transportation sector," he said. 

"We hope they give us aid already instead of dragging it through long processes." 

Almost like a script, transport agencies, when asked, have repeatedly cited health risks on riding traditional jeepneys, even in the wake of studies that say otherwise. For instance, think tank IBON Foundation has pointed to studies which find that traditional open-air jeepney is likely even safer against COVID-19 than its air-conditioned modernized counterpart, saying that keeping traditional jeepneys off the road inconveniences commuters and also denies them potentially safer means of transport.

In an earlier text message, Floranda told Philstar.com in Filipino: “Drivers and operators are hoping they can go back to earning a living. They're ready to follow regulations, like putting up dividers in jeeps to ensure the public’s health and safety. For months drivers have suffered without earnings, and for months the public has had a difficult time without serviceable transport, so we're really hoping we can go back to work." 

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