Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston) president George San Mateo said that the transport group will stage their fourth strike all over the country on December 4 to 5 to oppose the government’s jeepney modernization program in 2018.
San Mateo clarified that they are not against phasing out dilapidated jeepneys to make way for new ones, but that they were concerned about how the program will be implemented. They are especially way of how the plan seemed to function as a “front” to promote electric-powered jeepneys and other vehicles that observe the Euro-4 emission standards.
After Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade threatened that the government would revoke the franchises and drivers’ licenses of those who would attend the planned two-day nationwide strike.
Tugade said that the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) are ready to act against jeepney drivers would join the strike.
“We have invited Piston to dialogues, but still they insisted on holding strikes. Other transport groups sat down with us and we discussed the program together. Why can’t Piston do that? I am positive that when they do, they will understand and they will agree that it is time to overhaul the public transportation system,” Tugade said in a statement.
Despite Tugade’s threat, though, San Mateo said that the DOTr has not yet provided its route rationalization plan, which is needed for those who want to get new franchises.
Even then, the Piston leader said that he was “willing” to get in prison for opposing the jeepney modernization plan.
“Ang mga e-jeepneys na dispalinghado at hindi angkop sa klimang tropikal at kabundukan ay nagkakahalaga ng P1.8 milyon, o kasinghalaga ng isang SUV (sports utility vehicle) na hindi kayang bilhin ng mga maliliit na operator. Ibabaon sa utang ang mga operator at tiyak na masaker sa kabuhayan nila ang patutunguhan nito,” San Mateo said.
Assistant transport secretary for communications Leah Quiambao said the government has the authority to cancel a franchise, considering how it is merely a “privilege granted by the state.”
A jeepney franchise can be revoked if they go on a strike, said Quiambao.
“Among the conditions upon the grant of franchise is that the [public utility vehicles] will not abandon their routes/lines and prejudice our commuters. Hence, ‘tigil-pasada’ is among the grounds for revocation of franchise,” he said.
In October, President Rodrigo Duterte warned jeepney drivers and operators to modernize by the end of 2017 or he would drag away old jeepneys.
“January 1, if you don’t modernize, get out,” said Duterte. “”I will give you until the end of the month or until the end of the year. Sumunod kayo kasi, January 1, ‘pag may makita akong jeep diyan na hindi nakarehistro, guguyurin ko ‘yan sa harap ninyo.”
Responding to criticisms from Piston and militant groups that the modernization program is anti-poor, Duterte said, “Mahirap kayo? Putang ina, magtiis kayo sa hirap at gutom, wala akong pakialam. It’s the majority of the Filipino people. Huwag ninyo ipasubo ang tao.”
Duterte even labeled the transport strike a “rebellion,” branding Piston and militant groups that joined the strike as “legal” fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines. He also pointed out how the Piston logo has a star in it, similar to the logo of the communists, something which netizens mocked because Piston’s logo does not have a star in it and the President’s logic is flawed.
Piston Metro Baguio reacted to Duterte’s response where he said he does not care that those who participated in the strike were poor.
“Sa presidenteng nagsabing mahirap kami, Sa lahat ng sinabi mo, ito na yata ang pinakatama. Natumbok nyo po mahal naming presidente!” the group said in their open letter to President Duterte that was posted on Facebook.
They talked about how it is true that they are indeed poor, which was why they need to wake up as early as 4 am and rest at around 9pm, while earning only P300 to P500; how they often wondered where to get the money to pay for their children’s schooling and other bills; and how the P80,000 subsidy from the government is too small to help them get the P1.6 million worth of modern jeepney.
“Mahirap kami. P#%*@! Mahirap kami. Kaya lilimusan mo kami ng P80,000 para makabili ng bagong modelong halagang P1,600,000? Kung pag-iipunan ko ito, kailangang doble ang arawang kita ko sa 14 oras na pamamasada. Mahirap kami, at nagsisikap, pero P#%*@!, hindi kami superman,” they wrote.
“Mahirap kami pero nagtatrabaho kami nang marangal para sa pamilya namin at para makatulong sa kapwa naming mahihirap na komyuter,” they added.
“Mahal naming presidente, mahirap kami pero huwag mo kami murahin dahil hindi mo kami pinapalamon,” Piston Metro Baguio said as they concluded their open letter.
There was also another viral letter from a proud son of a jeepney driver who attempted to explain why jeepney operators and drivers oppose the jeepney modernization program.
Reiner Grospe said it was through his father’s efforts as a jeepney driver that he was able to send his kids to good schools.
“We received quality education only privileged children can have. Thanks to this high school graduate, jeepney driver, who toiled all his days driving under the heat of sun, exposed in the polluted air, sitting right adjacent to the vehicle’s steaming hot engine – all these health hazards and more,” he wrote on Facebook on October 16.
He pointed out how slowly the jeepney fare was increasing compared to the rate of increase in price of basic necessities. Just like Piston, he also pointed out how these jeepney drivers can possibly afford to pay for the “eco-friendly” jeepney.
“I am for a better environment and I also find good in replacing old jeepneys. But our “privatized” government suggests to the drivers to avail of the ecofriendly jeepney loan that makes them pay incredibly and way more than the real price of the unit according to Piston,” Grospe wrote.
He also noted how these drivers work “not for profit” but for a living.
“What’s my point? My point is that this sector do what they do for a living and not for profit; to raise families and not to build empires; they are part of the economic cycle and not a pain in the ass. Maybe we can listen to them today. Lets help them take out from the government a better solution for them,” he added.
In preparation for the nationwide strike on December 4 and 5, some local governments have already suspended classes on December 4.