Piston gears up for transport, people’s protests against ‘fake’ jeep modernization

jeepney phaseout
Bulatlat File Photo: Jeepneys set to go on a protest caravan

“We plan the protests to be participated in not just by transport groups but by various sectors, too, because commuters stand to pay the higher costs of this fake jeepney modernization.”


MANILA — On Monday, September 25, a relatively new transport coalition held a transport strike and, according to the LTFRB, stranded up to 5,000 passengers in Metro Manila. As with past transport strikes, reports said it was a failure even as the organizers announced it a success in some parts of Quezon City. The government said only 0.3 percent of commuters was affected. In Bulacan, schools had announced class suspensions ahead of the planned strike.

Led by the Stop and Go coalition, the strike protested the jeepney “modernization” particularly its high cost. But it did not coordinate with bigger transport groups such as the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston), which has also been opposing what it describes as a government scheme to implement a “fake modernization” of public utility jeepneys.

In an interview, George San Mateo, Piston president, told Bulatlat that they remain opposed to the “fake modernization of jeepneys being peddled by the Department of Transportation.” But, he said, their group could not join last Monday’s strike as it was shared to them at a very short notice. A transport strike or even just a nationally coordinated protest joined or led by Piston entails a nationwide level of coordination. He said Piston is preparing to launch bigger nationwide protests to be held this October.

Case filed against Piston president

Although Piston was not a part of the transport strike last Monday, George San Mateo was singled out by Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) for reprisal. Lawyer Aileen Lizada, LTFRB board member and spokesperson said on Monday, while threatening drivers who joined the strike, that the LTFRB had recently filed charges against Piston president George San Mateo, for violation of Commonwealth Act 146. She also said a jeepney strike is a violation under the Memorandum Circular 2001-004 paragraph 3.

Asked for comment, San Mateo said he still has to get a copy of the charges. But he added, “it’s clearly harassment meant to threaten the drivers. Nanggagalaiti talaga sila pag may drivers na nag protesta. (They’re really infuriated with drivers conducting protests).

On February 6, Piston directed its members and advised allies to hold a transport strike along with members of Stop and Go coalition. On February 27 Piston itself launched a nationally coordinated transport strike that succeeded in paralyzing public transport in the provinces and in certain busy routes of Metro Manila. The Stop and Go coalition pulled out of that planned strike. It announced instead an undated March strike and its leadership talked with officials of Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). After the talks, Stop and Go president Jun Magno expressed support for the jeepney “modernization”. They posted in their group’s social networking sites that the fight against the jeepney phase-out has succeeded. But this claim was belied by succeeding events.

George San Mateo
Bulatlat File Photo: Piston National President George San Mateo speaks to a reporter before their protest caravan against jeepney phaseout leaves for LTFRB and DOTr May 22 this year.

On June 19, Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade signed, before hundreds of jeepney drivers and operators gathered at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines (OFG). It details the framework and major conduct of the jeepney phase out or what the government calls as “modernization” in the next three years. They would consign current jeepneys into the scrapyard.

Piston continued organizing and coordinating with transport groups to press the government instead for jeepney rehabilitation. San Mateo told Bulatlat that the jeepneys today are actually upgradeable. It is a short-term solution to modernizing the jeeps, he said. Developing the national steel industry and the transport industry comprise the long-term and sustainable way to genuine modernization. Stop and Go, meanwhile, filed a petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO) with a regional trial court in July. But without an actual victim yet, the court could not have granted a TRO. The Stop and Go group failed to secure a TRO. The court junked their motion after the LTFRB said it would start implementing the “modernization” on 2018. The LTFRB then claimed on its website its planned jeepney phase out or “modernization” is legal because the TRO was junked.

Mass actions for jeepney rehabilitation set despite LTFRB threats

In the aftermath of Stop and Go’s Sept. 25 transport strike, lawyer Lizada said they are still studying what charges to file against Magno. Meanwhile, having filed charges against Piston’s San Mateo, Lizada and some regional directors of the LTFRB still continued to warn drivers and transport groups, saying they should not conduct protest actions against the government policy or decision. They also threatened the drivers and operators that they might not be issued their Certificate of Public Convenience (their franchise) under the PUV modernization program if they joined transport strikes.

But San Mateo is undaunted. He told Bulatlat that based on reports Piston and allied transport groups have received, the government’s jeepney “modernization” is a nightmare waiting to happen not just for drivers and operators but for also for commuters.

He noted that transport leaders currently asking for a P2 fare hike are the same persons welcoming the so-called modernization.

jeepney phaseout
Piston members holding a protest caravan days before DOTr Sec. Tugade signs the framework for jeepney phaseout / modernization, drivers (Bulatlat File Photo May 22, 2017)

“Higher fare hikes await the commuters under the fake modernization of the jeepney — and unfortunately, like in their experience with the MRT, they are not guaranteed to enjoy an improved riding experience,” San Mateo said.

Under the OFG, three kinds of jeeps will replace the present jeepneys in three years. These are the comet electric jeeps, euro4 diesel-powered, and star 8 hybrid electric-diesel-powered jeepneys. Each cost from P1.4 million to P1.6 million. Not even the government’s carrot in the form of P800 per day amortization payable in seven years could swing the drivers into accepting the order to junk their jeepneys.

San Mateo said the Department of Transportation (DOTr) considers their preferred jeeps “environment-friendly: the electric type, solar-type or combination/hybrid or compliant with European standards, ‘Euro 4’.” So far, these are the jeeps with a few samples already plying metro streets. There are reportedly about 20 or so units of Euro-4 diesel-run ‘jeepneys’ plying the Marikina and Commonwealth routes. Under 1-Utak, led by lawyer Vigor Mendoza, they created a fleet management system to run the “jeeps.” San Mateo said it displayed the hallmarks of corporatization. It means the jeeps are run or managed by a corporate entity rather than the current individual and small operators. With new imports and corporatization, the new jeeps cost more for operators to buy, run and maintain, and who else will bear the costs plus the corporation’s target profits? San Mateo asked.

Other examples of DOTr-approved jeepneys are those plying the new SM-Katipunan route. San Mateo said transport leader Obet Martin of Pasang Masda brokered this ‘Comet’ group of jeeps.

All these vehicles are imported, running on imported fuel or batteries. San Mateo said it would not wean the country away from the exorbitant import-dependent transportation industry. Worse, it will increase fares after it dismantles the usually single ownership of transport operators in favor of larger scale ownership.

“To apply for a new franchise, you have to form a consortium or a corporation. But even if you form one, it’s not a guarantee you’ll get a franchise, or be qualified to avail of a loan. The government will not extend loans to an individual person-operator. This is why we call it corporatization,” he explained.

The current jeepneys, he said, can still be rehabilitated at a smaller cost to achieve similar goals for the environment. Next month, the LTFRB has scheduled a grand show of its favored new jeepneys. Piston and other transport groups have also scheduled protest actions.

“We plan the protests to be participated in not just by transport groups but by various sectors, too, because commuters stand to pay the higher costs of this fake jeepney modernization,” San Mateo said. (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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