What we know so far: Week-long 'tigil-pasada' vs jeepney phaseout on March 6

James Relativo - Philstar.com
What we know so far: Week-long 'tigil-pasada' vs jeepney phaseout on March 6
Transport group Manibela and various transport groups voice their opposition to LTFRB's move to phase out old jeepneys beginning June 30, 2023.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 11:43 a.m.) — Major transport group PISTON said it is ready to throw support behind groups planning transport strikes should the government insist on coercing small-time jeepney operators into consolidating individual franchises in the name of modernization in its current "expensive" form, a move that will eventually take traditional jeepneys off the streets.

Here is what we know so far about the issue:

Week-long transport strike?

Representatives from Manibela, Laban TNVS and PISTON, in a press conference Monday, raised their issues with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board's (LTFRB) phaseout of traditional jeeps and UV Express.

They said they intend to conduct a "week-long transport strike" from March 6-12  to convince the board to suspend implementation of the Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) Modernization Program. This will be the first major coordinated strike since full passenger capacity resumed in March 2022, as industries resume their on-site work setup and schools return to face-to-face learning.

Manibela national president Mar Valbuena said around 40,000 jepney and UV Express vehicles are expected to participate in the strike in Metro Manila alone. They also called on commuters to support their protest.

Valbuena added that routes in Ilocos, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Bacolod, Davao, Cagayan de Oro and Bicol will also be affected by the strikes.

What drivers, operators are protesting

The LTFRB said last week that individual operators of traditional jeepneys will no longer be allowed to continue their operations after June 30 unless they start joining a "consolidated entity" like a corporation or cooperative.

Only those that do so may continue to operate by virtue of a provisional authority that will be effective until December 31.

PISTON earlier said that a modern minibus costs around P2.4 million to P2.8 million per unit, compared to a tradditional jeepneys that only cost P200,000 to P600,000.

Under the the current PUV Modernization Program, operators must surrender their individual franchises for consolidation into a Fleet Management System, pushing them to purchase 15 imported minibuses per route.

According to PISTON, only large corporations would have the financial capacity to buy the 15 vehicles to operate a single route without being buried in debt.

LTFRB chairperson Teofilo Guadiz III earlier said that only 60% of the target number of vehicles for modernization have complied with the directive to consolidate franchises.

How is the government responding?

Transport Secretary Jaime Bautista on Monday appealed to transport groups to "sit down and iron out issues concerning the sector" before staging the strike.

"Maybe they should think about this a lot before you stop operations. Let's talk first. Let's understand what the issues are because maybe we don't understand each other well," Bautista said in a mix of Filipino and English in an interview released by the Presidential Communications office.

"But I think it's important that there is a dialogue between the operators, LTFRB and this time we will have representatives from the [Department of Transportation]."

Bautista said he believes that the lack of DOTr representation in previous dicussions to clarify issues is a factor in continued opposition to the program.

The DOTr official said that they're already working closely with the Development Bank of the Philippines and Land Bank to help operators and drivers finance the acquisition of modernized equipment.

"The phaseout will happen in areas where the modernization program is almost already implemented in full," he added.

"But in areas where we think that we know it's hard to get new equipment right away, we will give operators a chance to join cooperatives to consolidate so that they get the help they need to get new equipment."

"No phaseouts will happen yet in areas where new units still cannot realistically operate. But there are areas where there are already plenty [of the modern jeeps]. So if said operators [in those areas] don't join [consolidated entities] to get new vehicles, they wouldn't be considered." 

'Fight for livelihood, just modernization, industrialization'

PISTON national president Mody Floranda said that next week's transport strike is a show of solidarity, and that many sectors are willing to fight in order to stop the forced phaseout and franchise consolidation.

"Drivers and small operators are ready to protect their livelihood because the lives of their families are at stake especially at a time of intense economic crisis," Floranda said on Tuesday.

"Once you consolidate your franchise under a cooperative or corporation, you surrender your right to have an individual franchise. Once you fail to shoulder the weight of expensive modernization, you have nothing to go back to."

"What happens to the consolidated franchise of your coop? It will be bidded out by the LTFRB to large coporations who have the capacity to pay for imported minibuses forwarded by the government."

PISTON is calling for a "just transition program" into modernization by supporting the local manufacturing industry and allowing the rehabilitation and overhauling of traditional jeepneys to use engines that create less carbon emissions.

Floranda said the transition would not only save small-time operators money, but will also further develop local industries and create domestic jobs.

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