By Jomel R. Paguian
GROUPS of jeepney drivers and operators have vowed to wage more transport strikes as a response to the government’s refusal to abandon its Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP), which they have petitioned against before the Supreme Court.
Transport groups Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operators Nationwide (PISTON) and Manibela said they will stage nationwide strikes throughout this month, persisting until the modernization project is repealed.
“This January 2024, we will continue our strikes to fight for the rights of jeepney drivers and operators,” PISTON national president Mody T. Floranda, speaking in Filipino, told BusinessWorld on the sidelines of a year-end protest against franchise consolidation under the PUVMP in Manila last Friday.
Days before the New Year, the Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) issued new guidelines permitting unconsolidated public utility vehicles (PUVs) to operate until Jan. 31, 2024 — a month-long grace period beyond the Dec. 31, 2023 consolidation deadline.
However, jeepney drivers and operators argued that a grace period is not the solution they are asking for.
For Dionie Dayola, Jr., a PUV terminal operator with over 60 traditional public utility jeepney (PUJ) units plying the Agoncillo-Guadalupe route, the LTFRB’s announcement is meaningless as the threat of losing their franchise still looms.
“Sure, we may run our jeepneys until the end of the month, but we will choose to participate in strikes instead to rally against the impending phaseout,” he said in Filipino.
Edmund Urba, a jeepney driver plying the Pasig-Marikina route, said a one-month grace period is not enough. Speaking in Filipino, he said in an interview: “That is nothing; the right to work should be a lifetime guarantee, not just for a month.”
“If this system continues, we will persist in doing strikes,” he added.
Mr. Urba mentioned that the government’s commitment to offering jeepney drivers a fixed salary rate and social welfare benefits, similar to regular employees, is inadequate to support their families, as they still have to cover the costs of modern jeepney units, which amount to at least P2 million in installments.
Rogelio Armando, a jeepney driver plying the Alabang-Taguig route, said joining strikes is his only option to keep his job. In an interview, he said in Filipino: “At the age of 54, no company will hire me for work. I would rather strike to fight for our livelihood.”
Speaking on behalf of commuters, pro-labor coalitions said they will support transport strikes even if they lead to more challenging commuting conditions.
“If the government does not junk the modernization project, nothing will stop the jeepney drivers from going on strikes,” Federation of Free Workers (FFW) vice president Julius H. Cainglet said in Filipino. “Even if they do strikes every day, we will support them.”
For the labor group Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) phasing out traditional jeepneys will harm employees who will need to pay higher fares in modern PUV units while commuting to work.
“The one-month grace period is a joke. That plan still does not heed the demands of jeepney drivers and commuters,” COURAGE secretary general Manny Baclagon told BusinessWorld in a separate interview.