By SHERWIN DE VERA
BAGUIO CITY — Jeepney drivers and small operators in the city staged another protest on Wedsnesday, December 5, against the impending phase-out of jeepneys under the public utility vehicles modernization program of the government. The activity was part of the nationally-coordinated action initiated by Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Operaytor Nationwide (PISTON).
Led by the Baguio-Benguet Movement Against Jeepney Phase-Out, representatives from different driver and operators association marched from the city’s central business district to Hotel Supreme.
“We want to show our government that we are against jeepney phase-out and ready to fight for our right to life and livelihood,” explained Josefino Bautista, one of the group’s convenor and president of Victory-PNR-Hillside Jeepney Operators and Drivers Association (JODA).
He said they intend to bring their position to Department of Transportation (DoTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade, who will attend the Cordillera Transportation Summit for PUV Modernization being held in the building. The Cordillera Basic Sector Transportation Cooperative (CBSTC) organized and sponsored the activity.
Bautista expressed his apprehensions over the content of the provisions of the management agreement attached with the franchise consolidation order of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).
“Under the agreement, we have to surrender our franchise to corporations or cooperatives and forced to drive that costly ‘modern jeepneys’ promoted by DoTr. We will lose our right to ply our route and use our existing vehicles,” he said.
The LTFRB gave individual franchise holders until March 2019 “to consolidate into a single juridical entity,” either as a corporation or a cooperative, to continue their operations as stated under Memorandum Circular 2018-008 of the agency.
Transport groups also questioned the manner by which the government intends to undertake it, saying that from the start “the government ensured that drivers and small operators will have a difficult time” passing the guidelines. They said the real purpose is to give preference to corporations and big cooperatives dominated by the moneyed.
“We don’t oppose jeepney modernization. What we oppose is the deliberate efforts under the program to phase-out our vehicles, force us to buy new vehicles which we cannot afford and corporatize public transport,” explained Lito Wayas, convenor of the movement and chair of PISTON Metro Baguio.
Franchise consolidation is part of the government’s public utility vehicle modernization program as proscribe under Department Order (DO) 2017-11 or the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines (OFG). The program is targeting to phase-out about 250,000 jeepneys and replace them with “safe, reliable, efficient and environment-friendly” ones.
According to independent think-tank IBON Foundation, impacts of the phase-out includes substitute vehicles that are unaffordable even with the loans offered by the government, corporate control over the service and steep rise in fares. The institution also pointed the impractical route restrictions in the absence of “high capacity transport modes” at present.
Under the OFG, jeepneys will not be allowed on major roads. They are likewise limited to lengths of 15 kilometers in the cities and 35 kilometers in other areas. Their main function is to serve as feeders, linking communities to bus, rails and other mass transport system.
The OFG also contain certain built specifications for PUVs and gives preference for brand new units for franchise.
The think-tank said the modernization push of the government is also attached to its plan to utilize public funds to subsidize foreign manufacturers to assemble PUVs.
“Under the Comprehensive Automotive Resurgence Strategy (CARS) Program, the government will fund assemblers of so-called eco-friendly PUVs. The CARS program has a Php27-billion subsidy for six years for assemblers to be given fixed investment support (FIS) and/or Production Volume Incentive to revive the car assembly industry in the Philippines beginning 2016. The Board of Investments has closed the third slot of CARS (the two being Mitsubishi and Toyota) in order to focus on PUV assemblers. For 2018, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is asking Php1.64 billion to fund the incentive promised to carmakers,” noted IBON
During the Cordillera Transportation Summit to support the PUV modernization program, Rex Bayangan, secretary general and spokesperson of CBSTC said they are supporting the program because it is the mandate of President Duterte and “for the safety and comfort” of passengers.
“If we become cooperative(s) sabi po ni presidenteay lahat tayo ay aangat, iyanpo ang kagandahan ng cooperative or magkorporasyon,” he added.
Bayangan bared that Isuzu unit with complete specification under the OFG cost P2.2 million.
He said that based on their financial capability study of drivers and operators in the Cordillera, they can afford to apply for one under the financing scheme offered by Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP).
Under the loan program, individuals can barrow P1.2 to P1.6 million with a 6% interest per annum to buy air-conditioned electric units or those having Euro 4 engines. The borrowers will pay a down payment and the remaining balance will be given in installment. According to LBP, drivers and operators will shed P800/day to pay the loan in seven years.
The government has also allotted P2.2 billion to subsidize the equity for the loans or about P80,000 for the 28,000 drivers/operators in three years starting this 2018.
However, PISTON said drivers and operators will be hard pressed to pay for the loan and interest. In the national capital region, drivers already find it difficult to pay for the P450 boundary.
For the group of Wayas, they find it difficult to believe CBSTC’s claim that they can afford such loan program. They said that in the Cordillera, except for the main urban and town centers, most of the jeeps travel in single trips or roundtrip at the most.
“In the city and the nearby towns of Benguet, only few routes like Mines View, Irisan and Kias earn P800 for boundary and about P300-P400 daily income for drivers,” said Wayas.
Based on their study, average boundary is P600 pesos daily or P200 short of the required daily payment if they acquire the loan. Expenses for the maintenance of the vehicle and garage are not even included.
Wayas said all drivers and small operators are also concerned with vehicle roadworthiness, safety and convenience of passengers.
“That is why, we have been urging the government to allow us and provide assistance for us to rehabilitate our vehicles and even comply with the Euro 4 engine requirement with much lower expenses,” added the PISTON leader.
Another convenor, Johnny Lee, former president of the Quezon Hill JODA said jeepney plying the routes in Baguio City and Benguet are still reliable, safe and pass emission testing.
“The Land Transportation Office regularly conducts inspection of our vehicles, we also ensure that we maintain the roadworthiness of our vehicles because it is the source of our daily needs,” he said.
PISTON and its allied organizations are pushing for the palit jeepney program and assistance to rehabilitate units that are still roadworthy to minimize the cost.
IBON, for its part, noted the importance of keeping the option for single operator/driver franchising and restriction of corporate fleets in cities and specific routes. # nordis.net