Drivers remain defiant vs. ‘forced consolidation’ of jeepney franchises

By Nuel M. Bacarra

Jeepney drivers and operators belonging to the Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahang Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (PISTON) and the Federation of Drivers, Commuters, and United Transportation Terminals (MANIBELA) again protested at the central office of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board in Quezon City last Thursday, May 16, against the government’s “ant-people” public transport modernization program.

Reiterating they are not against the so-called modernization of public utility vehicles, the protesters said the program’s franchise consolidation aspect however is a denial of their right to ownership and livelihood.

The scheme also means corporatization and privatization of the public transport sector that only favor foreign entities and local big businesses, they said.

Photo by N. Bacarra/Kodao

The government announced it will start issuing penalties against drivers and impounding their vehicles this week following the latest deadline for franchise consolidation last April 30.

A ₱50,000 fine will be charged for the impounded vehicle, the government threatened.

PISTON said the directive is a “crackdown” because “it is an obvious move for a job massacre and a direct attack on the commuters’ right for an affordable public transport.”

The group pointed out that the government is not yet ready for the program’s full implementation as it has yet to present plans on how to support drivers and operators through subsidy and route rationalization.

PISTON added that the government has no contingency plans for commuters to be affected by the transport crisis once traditional jeepneys are no longer allowed to ply their routes.

The protesters also said that some drivers and operators who entered had their franchises consolidated also joined Thursday’s protest, revealing they were forced to submit to the merger due to threat and intimidation.

Photo by N. Bacarra/Kodao

Forced modernization

The government reported that 78.33% have consolidated nationwide as of April 23 and a 65% rate of consolidation is enough for the PUVMP to pursue.

The protesters however said government’s claim of high percentage of consolidation cannot be considered factual.

“The government has no concrete plan, especially how the route rationalization will be implemented. Local government units are assigned to work on this. There’s no clear plan on the reintegration of the displaced drivers to the economy as a whole. A spike on unemployment is inevitable,” PISTON said.

The government is hell-bent on pursuing this modernization program while abandoning and sacrificing the drivers, operators and commuters in favor of foreign and big businesses,” the group added.

Meanwhile, some jeepney drivers from Pedro Gil in Manila with unconsolidated franchises defiantly plied their routes took, saying it remains to be their livelihood.

There were no reports of drivers apprehended and jeepneys impounded Thursday. #

Rights agency opposes ‘no vax, no ride’ measure

The impending prohibition of unvaccinated individuals from public transport assaults the people’s fundamental rights, the government’s human rights agency said.

Commission on Human Rights (CHR) spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia said in a statement that the plan by the Department of Transportation (DoTr) to ban unvaccinated persons from taking public transport is in danger of being sweeping and overly broad.

“CHR fears that, while there is no direct prohibition on the right to travel with the ‘no vaccine, no ride’ policy in public transport for the unvaccinated, this policy effectively restricts the exercise and enjoyment of fundamental rights,” de Guia said.

DoTr Undersecretary Artemio Tuazon Jr. announced Wednesday that the agency orders that only fully vaccinated individuals, with some exceptions, will be allowed to take public transportation beginning January 17, Monday.

DoTr’s Department Order No. 2022 – 001 shall cover public transportation for individuals who reside, work and travel to and from the National Capital Region, Tuazon said.

Persons with medical conditions that prevent full Covid-19 vaccination shall be asked to present a medical certificate while other unvaccinated individuals out to buy essential goods and services such as food, water, and medicine shall be asked to present barangay health passes or other proofs before boarding public transport, the DoTr said.

The CHR however expressed fear that even with such exemptions, persons may be restricted in accessing essential goods and services for having no or limited access to private vehicles.

The human rights commission explained that ordinary Filipinos continue to rely on public transportation in attaining basic needs, such as for food, work, and accessing health services, including unvaccinated individuals.

“It is not sufficient that the restrictions serve the permissible purposes; they must also be necessary to protect them. Restrictive measures must conform to the principle of proportionality; they must be appropriate to achieve their protective function; they must be the least intrusive instrument amongst those which might achieve the desired result; and they must be proportionate to the interest to be protected,” the CHR said.

In a radio interview Wednesday, a leader of one of the country’s biggest transport groups also opposed the measure, saying public transport were not consulted before DoTr issued the measure.

Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide chairperson Mody Florida told DZRH that jeepney drivers will find it very difficult to check each and every passenger’s eligibility to take public transport. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)