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Transport leader beaten up inside police station

A transport group said its leader arrested Sunday was beaten up inside the Daraga, Albay police station by suspected military intelligence agents.

The Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (PISTON) said its vice president and its Bicol chapter CONDOR-PISTON spokesperson Ramon Rescovilla was beaten up by three burly men inside the Daraga police station.

While undergoing tactical interrogation, Rescovilla was punched five times on his body and head. He was also kicked on his right foot, the group reported.

Rescovilla was arrested at a bridge near his home between Barangays Bintayan and Kilicao in Daraga, Albay Province at 4 pm by about 20 civilian-clad and uniformed police and military personnel.

The transport group leader told his colleagues he was ordered to lie face down on the pavement and handcuffed while an orange body bag was forcibly slung across his body when arrested.

When the bag was later opened by the police, a gun and a grenade was seen inside, a criminal charge the Philippine National Police has filed against many activists.

The police also refused Rescovilla’s requests for a medical check up after the beating as no doctor was available at the time.

Rescovilla’s son Bryan was told by a brother said the victim was crying in pain when found by family members at the police station.

Ayon, umiiyak, hinahawakan iyong tiyan. Binugbog yata sa loob,” regional alternative news group Baretang Bikolnon reported. (He was crying, holding his stomach. He may have been beaten while under police custody.)

Rescovilla had been continuously red-tagged and harassed by state forces prior to the arrest, PISTON said in a statement.

Rescovilla is the fourth activist arrested in the Bicol region since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

The anomaly of transport modernization (Part II)

by Rosario Guzman

Read the first part here:

Government’s misplaced scheme

In many instances, the solution to the complex transport problems of Metro Manila lies in the physics of the problem, in the same way that dealing with COVID-19 requires medical science. But the Duterte administration has simply picked up its pre-COVID proposal of “jeepney modernization” and used the pandemic to justify finally pushing for it, amid protestations by jeepney drivers and the adverse impact on millions of commuters.

The government is a signatory to the Bangkok Declaration on Sustainable Transport Goals (Bangkok 2020) on “environmentally-sustainable” transport policy. This is also in relation to the ADB’s Sustainable Transport Initiative that is ultimately premised on the continuation of “free market” and “inclusive” economic growth. The Duterte government’s accomplishment in fulfilling Bangkok 2020 rests on the jeepney modernization program. Ultimately, this is important for the Duterte administration to attract transport infrastructure investments as well as to push for the sale of brand new, imported, so-called environment-friendly, and modern jeepneys.

Through the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines (OFG) that the DOTr issued on 19 June 2017, the government is requiring the make of the body and engine of the traditional jeepney to be compliant with the requirements set by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). These requirements definitely prioritize electric jeepneys (e-jeep), while pushing away the traditional jeepneys which need to go through numerous hurdles to get licensed to operate. These hurdles include: upgrading combustion engines to comply with Euro IV and similar emissions standards; complying with the LTFRB-set age-limit of oldest vehicle part; refurbishing and rebuilding that should pass the type approval system test; and still finally going through the Land Transportation Office (LTO) for a roadworthiness test to get registration renewal.

Concerned automotive engineers, scientists and mechanics contest the need to phase out traditional jeepneys and argue that the government should support locally manufactured environmental solutions. They also question the availability of the parts of the imported modern jeepneys in case of repairs, unlike with the traditional jeepneys that can be replaced easily. They also claim that the body engineering of the modern jeepneys is not suited to Metro Manila’s narrow roads and more prone to accidents. Environmentalists have also criticized the government’s going electric or Euro IV as hypocritical when its own energy program is reliant on coal and other fossil fuels.

But the OFG just keeps on narrowing the chances for traditional jeepneys to survive. The OFG also requires a fleet size of 15 units for any type of PUV for six months for new routes, which prevents small operators from applying for new franchises. Actually, even medium-scale operators – if they exist – are constrained and marginalized under the modernization program. The modern jeepney costs about Php1.6 million to as high as Php2.5 million, which means that an operator needs at least Php24 million to get a franchise.

The DOTr has stated that the government is not phasing out jeepneys but simply modernizing. However, the government plays with words. The jeepney modernization program will ultimately kill the livelihoods of thousands of jeepney drivers and complete the corporate capture of the ‘last-mile’ resort of millions of Filipino commuters.

Still pushing for Build, Build, Build and foreign ownership

The Duterte administration is also not compromising its Build, Build, Build (BBB) infrastructure projects, despite their questionable viability even before COVID-19 struck and their diminishing relevance now. Of the 100 infrastructure flagship projects (IFPs) worth Php4.3 trillion, 73 are for transport and mobility. The government does not have plans to strengthen economic production so the projects will just end up reinforcing a service economy dependent on import-export trade, foreign investments and tourism. Much of the construction materials used are even imported rather than produced locally.

The transport sector is reflective of how the government has lost its capacity to govern and manage public services because of privatization. This raises questions therefore on government’s absorptive capacity for such a grand infrastructure program. Four years into the ambitious BBB, there are only two (2) completed and nine (9) ongoing projects to date. The Duterte administration has even increased the IFPs from 75 to 100 to make BBB “more feasible”. But it appears that only 38 projects will be finished by the end of its term.

The future of BBB in the time of COVID-19 is precarious. But like a beaten beast, the Duterte administration refuses to yield. The pandemic is posing serious challenges to the continuation of BBB, apart from the program’s innate weakness of simply being aimed at attracting foreign investments and momentarily stimulating a slowing economy.

The most obvious challenge for the construction industry is physical distancing because  masses of workers need to gather to finish a project. The IATF suspended construction at the start of the lockdown but later allowed it, while passing on to the construction companies the responsibility of ensuring that workers comply with health protocols.

The next challenge is how travel restrictions and physical distancing will certainly dampen transport, travel and tourism businesses, and foreign trade and investment for a long time. These are the sectors that BBB wishes to be relevant for – but they are less and less important for the economy’s survival in the time of COVID-19.

Another challenge is the commercial viability of the projects on which they are all premised. Instead of catering to genuine public service, the completed projects are designed to be run by private transport corporations who will collect user-fees for their profitability and sustainability. The most expensive BBB projects are mass commuter railways whose viability depends on expensive fares that will be beyond the reach of the majority of the poor and working people.

But the greatest challenge is how BBB’s socially inappropriate orientation can be shifted to support the proper health response to COVID-19. The pandemic has revealed how weak our health system is – lacking facilities and equipment, lacking health personnel, and even lacking the means to transport health personnel. Not a few health frontliners have had fatal road accidents biking to work due to lack of transport support from the government. There is not even a single health infrastructure facility in the IFP lineup. The administration has made pronouncements that it would reorient BBB to respond to the health crisis but has yet to release a new IFP list.

Meanwhile, one priority legislation of the administration is the amendment of the Public Services Act (PSA). On March 10, just before the lockdown, the House of Representatives passed on final reading House Bill (HB) 78 to amend the PSA. It is now at the Senate for deliberation and approval. These amendments include narrowly defining public utilities to bypass Constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership. Sectors considered public services, transportation included, can be opened up to complete foreign ownership. This further undermines public interest and national development. The PSA amendments will pave the way for the full foreign ownership of the mass transport system and government’s eventual surrender to private transport and transport infrastructure corporations.

The right direction

The Duterte government can address the transport crisis in the time of COVID-19 and in fact can look at the pandemic as an opportunity to overhaul the system. The health protocols may be followed indeed if only the government recognizes and addresses the transport crisis in a scientific manner.

There should be a first-step long-term modal shift from road to rail. The government can start by upgrading and adding rolling stock and rails to the train system. The corporations and officials of government agencies who forged lopsided privatization contracts should be held liable for poor service including breakdowns and accidents. The Philippines is among the first countries in Asia to have an urban rail system and has a long history of government running rail transport systems. These assets can be nationalized again and returned to public control. Rail transport can then be central to urban planning as well as to the dispersal of economic activities to the rural areas.

An efficient rail transport system, not to mention fully linked and accessible, will be the basis of an equally efficient route rationalization plan for PUBs and PUVs. The government should seriously conduct its own study to identify where the mass of commuters can have the most optimal travel time, including number of stops, from their workplaces to their homes. This should also include designation of walkways and bike lanes. It should not rely on self-interested privatization stakeholders to make such studies.

For a route rationalization plan to be truly systematic, PUBs and PUVs along with rail should be publicly run. Government can start by organizing PUBs and PUVs into cooperatives rather than allowing only single or corporate proprietorship of large fleets. It can also incentivize cooperatives to improve their service and compliance. Then, government can move on to careful consolidation of fleets through joint ventures and eventual nationalization. Such crucial steps will finally make PUB and PUV modes more economical and fares more affordable.

The DOTr is proposing to introduce service contract arrangements with private transport operators for the “new normal”. It also aims to shift from the “boundary system” to daily fixed wage for drivers and conductors so they can have steady incomes regardless of reduced ridership. This sounds acceptable, especially if we consider that transport groups have long been clamoring for government to abolish the “boundary system” to avoid competition-driven stresses, road hazards, and transport unpredictability.

However, the DOTr proposal remains outside the vision of living wages for transport workers, promoting their welfare and strengthening their unions, subsidizing commuters and controlling fares, and diminishing competition among the private contractors with stronger public control. In short, the current proposal should be within the framework of nationalization, lest it end up being another privatization contract.

The proposal is welcome if it is not being done in the context of the government’s jeepney modernization program. The Duterte administration cannot even give sufficient social amelioration to displaced drivers and conductors during a pandemic.

Moreover, government should once and for all restrain the explosive private car sales that defies all public mass transport logic. These just give the automotive corporations maximum returns on their businesses.

Finally, the pandemic gives us the vast opportunity to rethink sustainable development perspectives. The need for agrarian development and national industrialization cannot be overemphasized. But the government can start with arresting the anarchic building of offices especially for business process outsourcing and online gambling, shopping malls, hotels and leisure structures, residential and private subdivisions, and condominiums. Metro Manila’s urban development Is geared to increasing real estate profits and the wealth of the country’s economic oligarchs at the expense of public mobility and welfare.

Government can start by planning an economy that genuinely addresses severe inequalities existing pre-COVID-19 that, without corrective steps, will persist even far beyond. #

The anomaly of transport modernization (Part I)

by Rosario Guzman

The transport chaos on the first day of the less restrictive general community quarantine (GCQ) was painful to watch. With limited public transport, thousands of Metro Manila commuters eager to recover lost jobs and incomes were practically left on their own to figure out how to get to work.

Department of Transportation (DOTr) secretary Arthur Tugade said that the government has “concrete plans” for GCQ. He also had to say that the government is not “sacrificing the people” just to revive the economy, because that was what it seemed.

The recommendation by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to transition to GCQ was apparently based more on the compulsion to reopen business than on categorical facts of virus containment. The Duterte government was also reportedly already “out of funds” for socioeconomic relief.

The government once again resorted to the military. The military and police deployed trucks and cars to ferry the stranded passengers, breaking distancing protocol and betraying government’s lack of preparedness. Then, the usual victim blaming – the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and Malacañang blamed commuters for the mayhem. Then, the DOTr made a U-turn from its initial pronouncement and said that it never promised to meet the transport needs of the public under GCQ.

For the majority of poor commuters, what is more painful to see now is how the Duterte government, not backed by science, is on the verge of banning the traditional jeepney from the road forever and insisting that modernization is the cure.

If there is anything that COVID-19 has emphasized, it is the fact that the Philippine transport sector is in its worst crisis – a reality that the Duterte administration had repeatedly denied before the pandemic. If the economy has to transition to a genuinely better shape, the government has to address the basic woes of the transport sector. Vice versa, if the mass transport system has to be more efficient, the economy has to be transitioned to a genuinely better one.

But we seem to be stuck in our old problems.

Havoc in the new normal

The DOTr resumed public transport operations in two phases. During the first phase, trains and bus augmentation (which means bus loading and unloading at designated stations of MRT3), taxis, transport network vehicle services (TNVS), and point-to-point (P2P) buses were allowed with limits on the number of passengers. Tricycles were also allowed, subject to the approval of the concerned local government units (LGUs). Bicycles have also been encouraged.

During the second phase, public utility buses (PUB) and modern public utility vehicles or jeepneys (PUV/PUJ) were allowed with a limited number of passengers in rationalized routes. There are currently 30 routes from previously 96 routes for PUB and 34 new routes for the modern jeepneys. The DOTr will open more routes for the modern PUV in the coming days. Meanwhile, the traditional jeepneys remain prohibited from plying their routes unless seen as “roadworthy”. They are also the least priority and will only be used to fill in transportation gaps that arise.

Utility vans (UV) express will be allowed to operate with limited passengers as soon as more modern PUV routes are added. Provincial buses remain prohibited from entering Metro Manila.

The DOTr has also given some “new normal” guidelines, such as wearing of face masks at all times, cashless payments to avoid physical contact, use of thermal scanners, provision of alcohol and sanitizers, use of disinfection and establishment of disinfection facilities, and contact tracing. Costs for all of these are of course to be shouldered by the private transport operators and the passengers.

Apart from the added inconvenience these adjustments bring to the already unreliable mass transport system, there has also been lots of confusion on other relevant guidelines. The Philippine National Police (PNP) for instance prohibits backrides on motorcycles even for couples, yet some members of the police themselves are seen violating the rule. Interior and local government secretary Eduardo Año attempted to get around the prohibition by suggesting the use of sidecars but these are not allowed on the metro’s major highways.

Promoting the use of bicycles has not been accompanied by government policies to designate bike lanes and road-sharing with cyclists for a safe and efficient bike commute. Ironically, even the initiative by bikers’ groups and advocates to marshal the bike traffic along the “killer highway” Commonwealth Avenue was fined by the MMDA for “traffic obstruction”. Some LGUs are also reviving their old bike registration ordinances to collect fees even if they have not yet provided the needed support to bikers.

But the most glaring havoc is in the future of the traditional jeepneys – the ones that do not pass the DOTr’s standard of “modern” – which now hangs in the balance. Jeepneys were prohibited during the lockdown and are now under threat of being banned permanently from the roads in the name of the “new normal”.

The pandemic has obviously given the DOTr the opportunity to push for its “old normal” fixation on a modernization program that it has been proposing even before COVID-19. The modernization program revolves around: the digitization of fare and toll collection systems, vehicle registration, franchising, licensing, and navigation and positioning systems; routes rationalization; the transformation of EDSA; and jeepney phaseout.

It is premised on easing Metro Manila’s notorious traffic and pollution. But it is clearly a business-minded proposal that promotes the sales of private cars, modern PUVs and modern PUBs, and the privatization of transportation infrastructure. It is private transport-centric, while our obvious problem is the lack of an efficient and reliable public mass transport system. Now that the perennial road congestion is aggravated by physical distancing, the solution still seems to disfavor the mass of working class commuters.

Principles of E-R-A-S-E

The country badly needs an efficient, reliable, affordable, safe and environment-friendly public mass transport system. With or without the pandemic and physical distancing, these features of a public mass transport system should be ever-present for real and sustainable development. A strong government role is crucial in this.

Efficiency means that we are transported by vehicles through the shortest distance and in the shortest time possible. This also means less fuel use, less vehicle emissions, less costs, and less traffic.

Reliability means getting the mass of commuters to their destinations on time, with the least difference between the anticipated amount of travel time and the actual one. The crucial fact in reliability is that a large number of people rely on public transportation for their mobility.

Affordability and accessibility mean that the majority of the population who are wage workers and informal earners can afford public transportation and can easily avail of it from their dwelling and work places. This also includes facilities for persons with disability and senior citizens.

Safety includes measures that prevent harm to the riding public and create pedestrian-friendly conditions and infrastructure to reduce accidents and traffic deaths and to improve public health.

Finally, environment-friendly means public mass transport promotes healthier cities and living spaces. This includes the need to use clean and energy-efficient technologies and fuel for motorized transport on one hand, and the promotion of non-motorized modes such as walking and cycling on the other.

The crisis is real

The country’s public mass transport system is far from having these positive features. This reflects how the government has defaulted on its responsibility to ensure people’s mobility, and shows the general lack of national economic planning for sustainable development.

Our problem may be summarized as follows: 1) Mass transportation is left in the hands of private providers, including private rail corporations, bus franchises and single proprietors; 2) Deregulation is an operative principle in the entire sector, with the government’s role reduced to licensing, franchising and the like; 3) There is a lack of urban planning based on rural development and national industrialization that genuinely decongests the cities; and 4) Our mass transport system is corporate-driven, promoting the interests of infrastructure, transport, automobile and rail corporations as well as the profitability of real estate corporations, shopping malls, fare collecting banks, and the rest of the service-oriented and trading economy.

These problems manifest in many ways. The various modes of transportation are not fully linked, and there is heavy reliance on the ‘last-mile’ modes such as jeepneys, tricycles and even pedicabs. There is more road than rail transport, which is an indication of quite an unsustainable and expensive transport system. On the other hand, rail is privatized instead of being government-owned, controlled and operated, thus it is profit-driven and maintained by user-fees.

Fares are high as a consequence of privatized transport. According to the latest available data from the Family Income and Expenditure Survey in 2015, passenger transport for land travel eat up 7% of total non-food expenses of families in the National Capital Region (NCR). This covers fares for railway, jeepney, bus, taxi, tricycle and pedicab rides.

Transport is unreliable, with roads saturated and the quality of rail service poor. This is not to mention that roads are unsafe and rail accidents and breakdowns are frequent. Air pollution in the metropolis is one of the worst in the world, according to the World Health Organization. Lastly, there is a high volume of vehicles on the road. Navigation app Waze identified the Philippines as having “the worst traffic on earth”.

The anatomy of the transport mess

Metro Manila or the National Capital Region (NCR) has a total land area of 63,600 hectares and population of 12.9 million that swells to about 15 million by daytime. It accounts for one-third of the national economy and is home to about one-fourth of the urban population.

Metro Manila has six conferential roads and 10 radial roads. The radial roads do not intersect one another and intersect the conferential roads not more than twice. There are interchanges that separate these roads, but there are still missing sections in these interchanges. There are fully grade separated expressways in the north (NLEX), south (SLEX), and on the southwestern part (Cavitex) that connect Metro Manila to neighboring provinces.

These roads and highways were constructed to lead traffic in and out of the NCR. But lack of national economic planning has weakened job creation, increased rural poverty and displacement, and concentrated economic activities in the NCR. The region is the most congested city out of 278 cities in developing Asia, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The region is brimming with urban blight and poverty.

There are the more recently built Metro Manila Skyway and Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Expressway to decongest SLEX and speed up travel to NAIA, the country’s major international gateway. These are also obviously to cope with the high traffic brought on by government’s labor export policy. The country’s international airports process the some 6,000 Filipino migrant workers who leave the country every day, which is more than twice as many as new jobs created locally.

There are more than three million registered motor vehicles in the NCR as of 2019, which accounts for almost one-fourth of the country’s total. This is a 9.7% increase from 2018 and a 28% increase from 2016, yet the urban space is finite and unchanging.

The latest data for vehicles disaggregated by type is as of 2016. It shows that motorcycles or tricycles comprised almost 40% of registered vehicles in NCR. Utility vehicles follow at 36% and cars and sports utility vehicles are at almost 30 percent.

On the other hand, the latest statistics on units for land transportation services is as of 2012, which shows that PUJs accounted for most of the franchises and units. There were 49,305 PUJ franchises and 50,153 PUJ units, which only shows that jeepney operators are small-scale and own only a little more than one unit. There were no registered PUBs in the NCR at that time, but there are 14,500 registered buses by 2016. If we try to extrapolate the 2012 data, considering that the number of PUJs almost remains the same over time, it means that PUJs and PUBs accounted for only 7.8% of registered utility vehicles in 2016.

The MMDA recorded an average daily volume of 405,882 vehicles plying the main thoroughfare EDSA in 2019, an increase of 22,054 vehicles from the previous year. About 63% of this volume are cars (255,732 units). PUBs make up only about 3% of total EDSA traffic, while PUJs are not allowed along EDSA. There is therefore no statistical basis to blame mainly the PUBs and PUJs for the traffic and transport anarchy in Metro Manila.

Traffic demand is at 12.8 million trips in Metro Manila, based on a study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Public transport accounts for 69% of total trips. The lesser share (31%) is done by private mode, and yet it is this mode that takes up 78% of road space. The traffic volume within the metropolis already exceeds the capacities of existing roads.

In terms of rail, Metro Manila has one commuter line (the Philippine National Railway or PNR) and three rapid rail lines (LRT1, LRT2 and MRT3). It has the least number of rail lines and the shortest urban rail system (51 kilometers) among 11 major Asian cities. The rail lines are not fully linked, only compounding the problem of an intermodal transport system where Metro Manila commuters use a variety of modes of transport and take an average of two to three transfers to reach their destinations.

MRT3 is privately owned like the PUBs, PUJs, taxis, TNVS, P2P, and UV express. The PNR, LRT1 and LRT2 are the only government transportation assets, although the operations and maintenance of LRT1 are privatized. The government does not subsidize fares, and in fact increases fares to attract private contractors.

The rapid rail system is the epitome of the inefficient, unreliable, unsafe and unsustainable public mass transport system in NCR. It is bogged down by frequent breakdowns, diminishing numbers of operational trains, accidents, inappropriate trains, and even non-working elevators and escalators. It is also in the center of corruption controversies.

Where does the commuter figure in all of this mess? The government through all its numerous transport agencies cannot even give a complete picture. An oft-cited study by JICA estimates that 39% of passengers’ trips in Metro Manila and nearby provinces are by jeepney and 38% are by tricycle. This indicates over-reliance on what has only been a coping mechanism for lack of system. Buses account for 13.6% and trains for only 8.6% of the number of trips by public mode.

Per day, LRT1 and MRT3 carry about half a million passengers each, while LRT2 ferries more than 200,000 passengers. Taking into account the number of registered buses and the estimated vehicle capacity by the JICA study, it may be surmised that buses also carry half a million passengers. Using the same extrapolation, jeepneys have the same passenger load.

Privatizing the rapid rail lines and phasing out the ever-reliable traditional jeepneys are therefore not solutions to the transport crisis. #

The last part of this series will discuss how government uses the pandemic to justify pre-COVID programs like the jeepney phaseout and Build, Build, Build that will further aggravate the socioeconomic crisis, and what steps government should take to genuinely address the country’s mass transport troubles.

Open-air jeepneys safer against COVID-19 than enclosed modernized counterparts

by IBON Media & Communications

With only modernized jeepneys allowed to resume operations this week, research group IBON said that keeping traditional jeepneys off the road inconveniences commuters and also denies them potentially safer means of transport.

The group said that the traditional open-air jeepney is likely even safer against COVID-19 than its air-conditioned modernized counterpart. With the pandemic still ongoing, insisting on jeepney modernization unnecessarily puts commuters at risk of possible airborne coronavirus infections.

The second phase of public transport resumption in general community quarantine (GCQ) areas will begin on June 22.

Public utility buses (PUB), modern public utility vehicles (PUVs) like modern jeepneys, and utility vans (UV) express will be allowed to operate.

Traditional jeepneys will remain prohibited.

IBON said that the Duterte administration is using COVID-19 as an excuse to force jeepneys off the road and fast-track its ill-conceived modernization.

IBON however said that the ban on traditional jeepneys should be lifted.

According to the group, there are studies which indicate that open-air transport may have advantages over enclosed, air-conditioned transport in controlling the spread of COVID-19.

Most coronavirus transmissions are acknowledged to occur via droplet infection, from coughing and sneezing, and partly through contaminated surfaces.

Nonetheless, recent studies show that the number of pathogens increases considerably in enclosed spaces and that regular ventilation reduces the risk of infection.

Despite physical distancing, enclosed modern jeepneys can become centers for spreading the virus compared to the natural ventilation of traditional jeepneys, said the group.

Medical researchers and physicists from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) have found that small cough droplets, potentially containing virus particles, can stay in the air of enclosed spaces especially when poorly ventilated.

Air quality and health experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences similarly find that airborne transmission is a significant route of infection in indoor environments.

The UITP (Union Internationale des Transports Publics) or International Association of Public Transport, with 1,600 members in 96 countries, has issued guidelines warning that public transport systems are “high risk environments” due to the “confined space and limited ventilation”

The risk of community transmission through enclosed public transport has already prompted many countries to take specific measures against this, said IBON.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) advises “proper ventilation in [public transport] at all times” and “the use of windows [to] increase replacement with fresh air”.

Similarly, the United States (US) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) came out with guidelines for mass transit administrators which include, among others, “[increasing] circulation of outdoor air as much as possible”.

In Thailand, the transport ministry has instructed public transport operators to open windows for good air ventilation.

In China, some public transport groups have retrofitted window vents to air-conditioned fleets.

In India, buses are enjoined to improve ventilation by increasing the frequency of fresh air intake.

With COVID-19 still spreading, traditional jeepneys have the advantage of being open-air, dissipating droplets with the virus faster, and lowering the risk of transmission, said IBON.

Jeepney drivers prevented from going back to work by the government ask for help. (Kodao)

Yet the government’s narrow-minded focus on corporate-driven jeepney modernization threatens to forego this important built-in advantage in the mass transport system.

The pandemic is being used to put thousands of jeepney drivers out of work and take traditional jeepneys permanently off the road in a brutal enforced phaseout, the group said.

IBON stressed that efficient and reliable public transport is critical to resume as normal social and economic life as possible amid the pandemic.

Commuters suffering from the lack of jeepneys include many health workers and emergency service providers at the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19.

Jeepney drivers and operators need subsidies to make up for revenue losses and higher operating expenses. The current situation is also an opportunity to promote cooperativization towards the eventually nationalized public mass transport for ensuring this vital service. #

Ayuda para sa mga drayber, hiniling sa isang pagkilos

Isang maiksing pagkilos ang isinagawa ng mga drayber sa araw mismo ng paggawa sa isang barangay sa Quezon City. Ito ay para manawagan ng ayuda mula sa pamahalaan.

Simula nang ipataw ang lockdown ay hindi pa sila nakakakuha ng tulong kagaya ng Social Amelioration Program. Nagtatanong ang mga drayber na may-ari ng sarili nilang mga sasakyan kung kasali ba sila sa dapat mabigyan ng tulong dahil nawalan din sila ng hanapbuhay dahil sa lockdown. # (Bidyo ni Joseph Cuevas/ Kodao)

Our struggle is not a spectacle

By Denver del Rosario

I was supposed to be in San Juan for work at around 2 pm. I left my house at noon like I always do because, oftentimes, that two-hour allowance is enough. But with the infernal Metro Manila traffic, expect the worst to happen.

I checked my phone. 3:57 pm. And I was still in Kamuning, far from where I was supposed to be. In an act of surrender, I told my editor a minute after that I won’t be pushing through with my coverage today. What should have been moments of productivity became time wasted on the road. I got off the bus, but then came a heavy downpour. I spent an hour in a fastfood restaurant to wait for the skies to clear and then I went out to wait for a ride home.

But then it was past five, and many people were trying to go home. To see buses jampacked with passengers was both frustrating and discouraging: frustrating because we don’t deserve this; discouraging because I wasn’t sure if I could get on a bus in this area with many people also waiting. So I chose to do the 40-minute walk to Philcoa. From there, I finally found a jeepney ride home.

This is the harsh reality many of us face where workers and students have no choice but to wake up a bit earlier in order to avoid the morning rush, only to find themselves still waiting for hours. Some say that the metro traffic is the great equalizer, but I call this bull—-. To say that is to be devoid of class analysis.

When the powerful and the influential romanticize the plight of the ordinary people by telling us that our daily sacrifice is the very definition of Filipino resilience and perseverance I don’t smile in gratitude, I rage. For our struggle is not a story of inspiration, but rather of gross neglect and plain arrogance, one where the grievances of the citizenry are easily ignored by those who should be listening and taking action.

Standing in the middle of an overcrowded bus while passengers still try to shove their way in is not a metaphor, so are burning railroads and dysfunctional trains. This is the reality of the masses, a never-ending cycle of waking up early and going home late while losing hope in the process. With these difficult circumstances, we have fallen into compromise; we don’t care anymore about safety and inconvenience, if the vehicle is too cramped, if the aircon is not working, because we all just want to go home.

It isn’t surprising to know that this denial of a mass transport crisis by the administration has earned the ire of the citizenry. Recently we learned about goverment officials telling us to be more “creative” when commuting, or that Superman is the only one who can save the day. When people shrug off their statements as comical relief instead of recognizing its plain insensitivity, this only manifests how much hypocrisy and incompetence we are willing to tolerate as a society just because we keep hoping change will happen. This is them not doing their mandate, and us willingly accepting that.

What government officials say is a reflection of the principles they hold in shaping public policy. For example, do we really expect a leader who catcalls female journalists and jokes about rape to strengthen laws regarding sexual harassment? Or an elected official who steals agricultural lands for profit to genuinely advocate for farmers? Go figure.

To the rich and the powerful, to hell with you and your uncalled-for sense of superiority. Your oppressing kind has the gall to tell us to hang in there as you look outside from your comfortable seats? Please. Our struggle is not a spectacle. 𝘞𝘢𝘭𝘢𝘯𝘨 𝘱𝘢𝘨𝘴𝘪𝘴𝘪𝘺𝘢𝘴𝘢𝘵, 𝘸𝘢𝘭𝘢𝘯𝘨 𝘬𝘢𝘳𝘢𝘱𝘢𝘵𝘢𝘯𝘨 𝘮𝘢𝘨𝘴𝘢𝘭𝘪𝘵𝘢. We don’t need your condescension; we need you to wake the hell up.

And to us who keep enduring hell, we have no other option but to carry on. We wake up early and go home late for we have bills to pay, mouths to feed, and dreams to fulfill. As we brave the metro traffic again, may we always remind ourselves that we should never settle for less, because we deserve more. But as we all know by now, we don’t wait for the world to change. We take action, rage on. #

(The author is a sports journalist. He has contributed stories to Kodao since his student days.)

‘There IS a mass transport crisis and that long term solutions are needed’

“Congratulations Sec. Panelo for arriving in one piece in Malacanang after nearly 4 hours of commute! Medyo late na kayo kung government time yan na 8am. Just the same, we hope this whole experience underscored the fact that there IS a mass transport crisis and that long term solutions are needed.”–BAYAN secretary general Renato Reyes Jr.

‘PUV phaseout, para lamang sa malalaking negosyante’

Aabot sa 95 porsyento ang pagtigil ng pasada sa malawak na lugar ng Kamaynilaan noong Lunes, Setyembre 30, ayon sa PISTON. Ito ay bukod pa sa ilang mga probinsiya na lumahok din sa proteste laban sa phase out ng public utility vehicles sa buong bansa.

Ayon sa mga tsuper, tatanggalin ang kanilang indibidwal na prangkisa sa dyip, UV express at tricycle na siya namang sakayan ng mayorya ng mahihirap na Pilipino. Ang mga prangkisa naman ay iko-konsentra sa malalaking negosyante na magpapanggap na mga kooperatiba. Magdudulot ng malawakang pagkawala ng kanilang hanapbuhay ang dulot ng iskemang ito, anila. (Bidyo ni Jek Alcaraz/Kodao)

Kodao Klasik: Ruta ni Ka Roda (2006)

Sundan ang pakikipagsapalaran ni Medardo “Ka Roda” Roda sa Maynila, kung saan siya unang humawak ng manibela. Ginalugad niya ng ilang dekada ang mga daan ng syudad at nagamay ang mga suliranin ng tsuper.

At nang makilala ni Ka Roda ang Piston o Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide, nagkaroon siya ng bukod-tanging kahalagahan sa laban ng mga tsuper at sambayanang Pilipino.

  • Script/Direction/Editing: Risa Jopson
  • Cinematography: Ariel Saturay/Ron Papag/Risa Jopson/Asia Visions
  • Artistic Directors: Nes Jacinto/Raymund Villanueva

I spent PHP100,000 on Grab in one year

By JOSE LORENZO LIM

One thing we can all agree on is that the country’s mass transportation is a nightmare. The MRT constantly breaks down. Buses are overcrowded. Taxis take longer routes for you to pay more. It’s a dismay. Thus, ride hailing apps such as Grab were marketed as an alternative to our dismal mass transportation system.

I was lucky enough that my grandmother supported my voluntary work at IBON by offering to provide me with a car instead of taking a jeepney to work. I decided that maintaining a car and fuel costs would be more expensive than just commuting. During my first weeks at IBON, I was taking four connecting jeepney rides just to get to work and another four to get back home. It was grueling. One exhausting day after work, I decided to just take Grab home regardless of the cost. This initial ride was followed by more rides.

Grab was convenient. I used the app when going to the office and coming back home every day. But this convenience came at a price. A huge price. My rides were anywhere between Php200-350. But when Grab’s absurd surge system hits Timog, it can go as high as Php650. Coupled with the rising cost of oil in October last year plus the fuel excise from TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law), it was the perfect storm to reach a whopping Php98,246 by booking Grab rides every day. My grandmother decided to just give me an allowance for my rising Grab expenses.  But it ended up being more expensive than if she had bought me a car.

Let’s be clear, Grab will never be a solution to our disgusting mass transportation system. While it did provide me with an alternative to taking a bus, jeep or even the MRT, what Grab essentially did was profit from disgruntled commuters at the cost of adding more vehicles to our already crowded roads It further pushed the corporatization and monopoly of a public service.

Let’s not forget that mass transportation is a public service.

And it seems that the government, who should fix our transportation system, is not bent on fixing it.  Government is saying that Build, Build, Build would provide more roads and trains or even a subway. But if you just build infrastructure without planning how these would come together with existing modes of transportation, then it doesn’t make sense. A sustainable mass transportation system should be efficient, reliable, accessible, safe, and environmentally sound.

If government won’t fix the mass transportation system then all the funding goes to big-ticket, big-business infrastructure to build roads. These are not for public vehicles but to accommodate even more private vehicles, which studies say already occupy 70% of Metro Manila traffic.

Government should craft a comprehensive national mass transportation plan in accordance with economic development plans. Or else, the pathetic cycle of building more infrastructure favoring private motorists over a huge pedestrian population will just continue. ###

Bird Feed features the thoughts and views of our staff on socioeconomic and other issues. All staff are encouraged to share their own analysis.

JOSE LORENZO LIM: Researcher at IBON Foundation. His research topics include Build, Build, Build, the oil industry, and social services. Prior to IBON, he served as Editor-in-Chief of the UPLB Perspective for the academic year 2016-2017. When not in the office, Jose Lorenzo enjoys writing with his fountain pens and trying out new ink.