“Why will jeepney operators accept indebtedness when the jeepneys they already have can be rehabilitated to fit the clean air, safety and other requirements of the government?”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The transport group Pagkakaisa ng mga Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (PISTON) and the No to Jeepney Phaseout Coalition, defying the threats issued repeatedly by the government against the protesters, pushed through with the two-day strike October 16. They said they would push through with the second day of the strike.
In Metro Manila, reporters covered various major thoroughfares and noted that some jeepneys were still plying their routes on the early morning of October 16. However, drivers said in interviews that they had only set out to earn enough for the family meal that day. They would join the strike soon.
As early as 6:00 a.m., too, the spokesperson of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), lawyer Aileen Lizada, issued threats broadcasted on TV. She said the LTFRB would initiate charges and deny franchises to the drivers and operators participating in the strike. The government deployed free rides and thousands of policemen in the affected areas.
Despite LTFRB threats and constant belittling of the transport groups’ strike, Piston said they paralyzed up to 90 percent of public transport. Schools and public offices were suspended owing to the strike.
Highlight on fighting for jeepney rehabilitation instead of scrappage
“The first day of our strike succeeded in its effort to highlight the drivers’ and operators’ concerns against the government’s jeepney phaseout and against transferring this mode of transport to big businesses,” Steve Ranjo, secretary general of Piston, told Bulatlat.
He urged the public to pay attention to the issues concerning the government’s program on the jeepney, rather than get sidetracked by the ‘fake news’ emanating from the LTFRB. “Kung ano-ano ang pinagsasabi nilang fake news sa media (They are issuing various fake news), like this supposed destabilization,” said Ranjo referring to LTFRB particularly Lizada.
Among these, Ranjo said, was the government’s failure to really involve the transport groups in the making of the ‘jeepney modernization program.’ He said it is not at all true that Piston or their allies had been consulted or allowed to join in the government’s consultations regarding the so-called ‘Jeepney modernization program’. In fact, Ranjo said, they have been pointedly ignored in many of the government’s “so-called consultations.”
It was during these consultations that Piston received confirmation, through allies who attended the event, that the government’s plan included eventually denying the current jeepneys their franchises and then forcing the owners to sell it for scraps.
— Bulatlat (@bulatlat) October 16, 2017
Piston also scoffed at Lizada’s announcement that the government is offering P80,000 ($1,540) so the driver-operators could purchase a new jeepney.
Ranjo condemned the government’s “5-6-7” (which they likened to 5-6, the informal usurious money lending scheme) toward forcing the jeepney operators to buy a new jeep. It means 5 percent is the bank’s requirement for the operator to get a loan with which to pay the new government-required jeep. Then, they pay 6 percent interest spread over 7 years of paying the amortization.
The government’s supposed subsidy of P80,000 ($1,540) represents the 5 percent bank requirement for issuing or approving a loan for buying the new jeep, Ranjo explained. It means the dangled “subsidy” will only go to the bank and not to the drivers, and, the drivers will be forced to work for a 7-year debt repayment program.
“Why will jeepney operators accept indebtedness when the jeepneys they already have can be rehabilitated to fit the clean air, safety and other requirements of the government?” Ranjo asked.
(Read also: Citing folly of LRT-MRT corporate control, drivers, operators want modernization but not thru DOTC’s way; And, Toward national industrialization| Develop local manufacturers, jeepney assemblers say)
Demands for government subsidy of jeepney rehabilitation, mass transport
If the government can think of allotting P80,000 ($1,540) of taxpayers’ money for the purchase of its vetted new jeepneys, why can’t it allot the funds instead for rehabilitating the current jeepneys?
This and similar questions were asked of the government by the drivers on strike and by their supporters.
“My jeepney is newly rehabilitated. I’ve replaced almost every part – except for the roof. It’s almost all new this 2017, and 90 percent stainless,” said Antonio Samangan Jr., newly elected president of Piston-Cubao.
Edna Bustamante, 71, a jeepney operator with five jeeps that helped her survive cancer, proudly said she has invested a lot on “renewing” her jeepneys. It all passed government inspection.
The Filipino jeepney, a product of ingenuity, is made of various parts fabricated and fitted together by local manufacturers.
“I don’t know why the government would not help us instead to gain a new machine to put inside our jeepneys,” Ceasar Wadwadan, president of Bay-yo Transport Association, told Bulatlat. His association is composed of drivers-operators who fix and repair their own jeepneys. He wondered why, instead of spending billions of money on new, wholly imported and untested jeepneys, the government is not investing in helping the current drivers and operators to get brand-new diesel-run machines.
He said that when a jeepney’s siding gets old, they replace it; when it’s the body or the chassis becomes the problem, they replace it. But the machine they got is always second hand. Since they have been running this machine well for some years, they expect it would be better if the machines are new. “We overhaul our machines, calibrate its injection pump and replace necessary parts to keep it from emitting dirty smoke.”
As a jeepney driver-operator-mechanic, Wadwadan said much of today’s jeeps can be readily improved and rehabilitated.
The scientist group Agham Advocates for the People agreed. In a statement supporting the drivers’ strike, it said that it is the duty of the government to provide a safe, efficient and affordable mass transportation. Considering the small drivers and operators are taking on parts of the public service that the government is not serving, Agham said it should not burden the small drivers and operators with expensive alternatives and financing schemes. Instead, they urged the government to help them replace their vehicles with minimal or at no-cost to them.
It added that the government should make available maintenance and repair shops to upgrade the current vehicles while new replacements are being brought in.
“Instead of forcing them to enter into the fleet management systems making them vulnerable to corporate capture, the government should make it optional for single driver and operators,” said Cleng Yu Julve, campaign officer of Agham.
Strike demands to end the government’s ‘anti-people jeepney modernization plan’
Under the government’s program to “modernize” public utility jeepneys, it requires operators to own at least 20 Euro-4 compliant jeepneys and to have at least P7 million ($135,000) in capital. The government will facilitate the importation and contract with corporations such as Toyota and Mitsubishi to locally manufacture up to 200,000 jeepneys by the year 2020.
According to the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), this means the driver must shell out at least P800/day ($15.40) from their daily earnings to pay the amortization. If they don’t earn enough, they risk the inevitable ballooning of interests.
CTUHR also pointed out that the plan is completely ignoring the reality that today, many of the jeepney drivers are earning only P200 – P400 ($3.85 to $7.70) a day for 12-16 hours on the road. It said the option the government is giving them would leave them in perpetual debt while they work to pay for a vehicle that after seven years will likely be in a bad state already.
“If the plan is implemented, capitalists-operators with that P7 million ($135, 000) capital will hire drivers to work for an income that is barely enough to feed their families,” Daisy Arago, executive director of CTUHR, warned. The group said it appears that it is not just a jeepney phase-out, but also a way of forcing out of the streets the people now earning their keep legitimately.
“Modernization is acceptable and must be supported when the people’s rights and welfare is at the center of any program,” Arago said. The group, like Agham and other progressive organizations, supported the drivers’ two-day strike.
The LTFRB claimed that the transport strike had little effect on commuters. On the evening of October 16, Malacañang declared a resumption of classes and work in government offices on October 17, only to backtrack during the wee hours of October 17 and declare the suspension of classes and work in government offices for the second day of the strike.