No vax, no ride…but where’s the ride?

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The controversial “No vaccination (No Vax), no ride” regulation was set into motion by Department of Transportation (DOTr) Memorandum Circular 001-Series of 2022. It was issued last Jan. 12 after most of the 17 local government units (LGUs) in Metro Manila have passed already their respective local ordinances to restrict the mobility in the National Capital Region (NCR) of people who have not gotten a single jab of any vaccine against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Thus, while the NCR remains under Alert Level 3 until Jan. 31, the DOTr’s “No vax, no ride” regulation applies to all the contiguous areas in Metro Manila.

Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre Bello III subsequently clarified all “essential workers” are exempted from this “No vax, no ride” rule. A member of the IATF, Bello announced this along with Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexi Nograles, co-chairman of the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID).

Nograles, however, blamed the confusion to the enforcers at the NCR for apparently not reading the exemptions under this IATF guideline before implementing the “No vax, no ride” rule starting last Monday. Bello apologized for this confusion that marred the otherwise good public intention of the “No vax, no ride” policy.

As the chairman of the House transportation committee Samar Rep. Edgar Mary Sarmiento acknowledged that this confusion on the first three days of its implementation at the NCR could have been avoided by proper coordination with enforcement authorities down the line. Speaking to us last Wednesday in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay, Sarmiento sought out flexibility in the obvious rigid enforcement of “No vax, no ride” rule. Sarmiento urged the DOTr to immediately lift the “No vax, no ride” once the Alert Level 3 in Metro Manila is lowered.

The “No vax, no ride” rule in public transports reaped widespread criticisms and condemnation for its questioned legality and perceived discrimination against unvaccinated individuals. But no less than President Rodrigo Duterte upheld this unanimous action of the Metro Manila Mayors and the DOTr to restrict the mobility of people. President Duterte invoked the dictum “the greatest good to the greatest number” at the core of this “No vax, no ride”policy.

Arguably, we have more than enough supply now of anti-COVID vaccines. There should be no more reason why people would remain unvaccinated, especially here at the NCR where anti-COVID jabs are free and widely available. But we don’t have, however, any law to require all people to get anti-COVID-19 jabs.

Given this situation, imposing the “No vax, no ride” regulation in public transports exposes another problem.

Where are the rides that vaccinated Filipinos need to move around while public utilities could only operate at 70% capacity under Alert Level 3?

It’s actually worse, Sarmiento disclosed, because the capacity of public transports from buses to jeepneys went down to as low as 50%. Many public utility vehicle (PUV) operators, he pointed out, have incurred losses operating at half of their capacity in these past two years. Based on latest official count, the 275,000 buses and jeepneys nationwide in the past went down to about 160,000 units due to the pandemic. This was why, he cited, the Congress-approved budget for this year allocated P7.5 billion for “service contracting” as direct subsidy to pandemic-stricken PUV operators.

Like Rep. Sarmiento, Charles Punsalan, head of the MuberRider Citimuber Philippines and Don Pangan, head of the Kagulong organization of motorcycle riders all over the country also expressed their support to the “No vax, no ride” rule as good for the safety and protection of both the riders and their passengers. Punsalan and Pangan who joined Sarmiento during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay zoom webinar decried though the alleged discrimination by the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) against the other players in the motorcycle-taxi (MCT) ride-hailing services.

Currently, they noted, the two DOTr-attached agencies have ignored the virtual “duopoly” of Grab Philippines and Move It allegedly lording over the MCT service industry. Both Punsalan and Pangan swore there are several other compliant MCT providers that could very well fill in the gap on the need for COVID-safe transport means of the riding public.

According to both Punsalan and Pangan, all their MCT riders are required to have anti-COVID jabs. This is in addition to the mandatory requirements imposed by the DOTr on MCT ride-hailing service providers to install protective barriers between the rider and the passenger in all their motorcycles.

For almost two years of this malingering pandemic, Pangan dubbed the MCT riders as the “lockdown heroes” working despite the risks of getting COVID-19 infection. Punsalan could not agree more. He described the MCT riders as the unsung “frontliners” in this pandemic not only in delivery services but also as alternative ride for the many commuting public.

Punsalan complained to Congressman Sarmiento that other MCT ride-hailing service providers like Citimuber has not been given a chance to participate in the past three “pilot-test” runs done by the DOTr technical working group (TWG).

As the chairman of the House committee on transportations, Sarmiento explained the 18th Congress also created its own TWG to draft the proposed bill seeking to adopt multiple players in this platform-based two-wheeled ride-hailing public transport system here in our country. Like its counterpart Senate bill, Sarmiento cited, the House version of the bill has already been approved on second reading.

The re-electionist House leader vowed to move this bill forward at the legislative mills before Congress adjourns sine die this June. With barely nine session days left before the election campaign period starts, the bill’s fate hangs in the balance.



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