House probes this week ‘corruption’ in PUV modernization

Cecille Suerte Felipe, Delon Porcalla, Bella Cariaso - The Philippine Star
House probes this week �corruption� in PUV modernization
Jeepney drivers and operators continue their protest against the government's Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) modernization program at a jeepney terminal in Pasig City on January 2, 2024.
The STAR / Jesse Bustos

MANILA, Philippines — The first hearing of the House committee on transportation has been set for Jan. 10 following Speaker Martin Romualdez’s order to verify reported anomalies in the public utility vehicle modernization program (PUVMP).

“We cannot allow corruption to take root in the implementation of the modernization program. If we are to proceed with the modernization of our PUVs, we must make sure there is not even a whiff of irregularity,” said panel chair Rep. Romeo Acop of Antipolo City’s second district.

“We are responding to the directive of Speaker Romualdez to investigate these very serious allegations. We will just get the consensus of members of the committee so we can start our hearings by Wednesday,” Acop added.

The PUVMP, initiated by the previous Duterte administration, has allegedly been plagued by corruption and irregularities, with claims that transport officials are in cahoots with manufacturers of new minibuses that will replace the old ones.

Romualdez asked the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to review and extend the program’s implementation, which had required jeepney operators and drivers to consolidate or join transport cooperatives.

The Office of Transportation Cooperatives (OTC) said that transportation officials are ready to face lawmakers on Wednesday.

“We welcome (the investigation) so that the assistance of Congress in improving the program (PUVMP) will continue,” OTC chair Andy Ortega said in a radio interview yesterday.

Ortega noted that the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) is expected to report the actual number of public utility jeepneys covered by the consolidation after the Dec. 31, 2023 deadline.

“We can say that more than 70 percent nationwide were able to comply with the consolidation,” he said, adding that consolidation in Metro Manila reached 50 percent.

Areas with a high percentage of consolidation will be tapped to operate in routes with low compliance, he noted.

The amended Omnibus Franchising Guidelines will also be released in the coming week as directed by Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista, he added.

Ortega recalled that President Marcos made it clear that the consolidation deadline will not be extended, but unconsolidated jeepneys will be allowed to operate until Jan. 31.

He said the LTFRB will allow modernized PUVs to take over routes with low percentage consolidation to ensure that the passengers will not be affected.

“Starting Feb. 1, the operator can no longer use his jeepney as it is already prohibited and (his franchise) is already canceled and the crackdown will start,” he added.

Sen. Raffy Tulfo said the PUVMP reeks of corruption, as the China-made modern jeepney per unit costs P1.7 million higher than a locally manufactured vehicle.

“The West Philippine Sea is already being occupied by China, will our roads also be allowed to be occupied by them?” he said in Filipino, referring to China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

Tulfo said he learned that imported jeepneys from China cost P2.6 to P2.9 million per unit, which is more expensive than a brand-new unit that local companies such as Sarao and Francisco Motors can make for only P900,000 to P985,000 each.

If the cost of purchased jeepneys is around P900,000, he said the government would be able to afford subsidies to implement the modernization at no cost to jeepney drivers and operators.

Fare hikes are coming

Meanwhile, a think tank yesterday said the DOTr does not want to admit that fare hikes are coming amid the phaseout of traditional jeepneys.

“The DOTr’s response to public fears of looming jeepney fare hikes is revealing for what they said and what they didn’t say. In the end, the real message is that the DOTr is not admitting to the public that the fares commuters pay will increase with modernization,” said IBON Foundation executive director Sonny Africa.

He was reacting to Bautista’s earlier statement dismissing concerns that the fares of modern PUVs could reach as high as P50 from the current P13 minimum fare.

Africa noted that officials failed to release a categorical statement giving assurance that current fares would not increase.

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