Senators urges gov’t to delay jeepney phaseout plan

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MANILA — The Senate has urged the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to postpone its planned phaseout of traditional jeepneys by June 30 as transport groups are poised to hold a week-long transport strike to oppose the plan.

Senators unanimously adopted Resolution No. 44, authored by Sen. Grace Poe, strongly urging the LTFRB to suspend the planned phaseout pending the resolution of urgent concerns raised by affected operators and drivers regarding the government’s Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP).

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri proposed that the postponement of the phaseout be suspended until PUV operators comply with the route rationalization plan that aims to optimize routes based on the capacity of the modes of transport.

“The LTFRB should not coerce PUV operators into complying with their guidelines without addressing the sector’s concerns, particularly on the high capital costs of acquiring modern jeepneys,” read the resolution, which cited concerns from transport groups.

The Senate committee on public services is targeting to conduct a public hearing to tackle the matter.

“I believe that is it crucial that we hear this as soon as possible…If we can do it by Thursday, we can come up with a resolution and we hope that the strike will not push through by Monday next week,” Poe said.

“We are not against modernization. If anything, we want to make it easier to achieve. There is always a win-win solution,” Poe added. “I am asking for the support of the entire Senate to stop the planned phaseout of the kings of the road on June 30, 2023.”

Zubiri supported Poe, saying “this is a national concern. We want to avert a nationwide strike.”

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva noted that a clean-up of the LTFRB must be undertaken before the program is implemented.

Sen. Nancy Binay said she was saddened the issue led to a transport strike. “Every year we raise the issue of unutilized budget for the DOTr’s PUV modernization program but up to now there’s no clarity why it is not being spent,” Binay said.

Sen. Francis Escudero said the DOTr should review the phase-out policy, its timetable, financial package and subsidy and assistance to affected drivers and operators.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III said the phaseout must be thoroughly studied to its smallest detail, especially its financing plan.

Sen. Raffy Tulfo said the rush to implement the phase out was connected to corruption at the LTFRB.

No phaseout

The DOTr has promised drivers and operators that there would be no phaseout of traditional jeepneys in areas that are unprepared for the shift to modern units.

DOTr Secretary Jaime Bautista said the DOTr will only enforce the jeepney phaseout in areas that are ready to shift to modern units. However, Bautista did not qualify what metrics the DOTr will use to determine whether an area is prepared to go all-out on jeepney modernization.

“The phase-out will happen in areas where we have almost completed the jeepney modernization program. However, in areas where it is difficult to obtain new equipment, we will give operators the chance to join a cooperative to consolidate them and get modern jeepneys,” Bautista said.

He said the government is working with state-run Development Bank of the Philippines and Land Bank of the Philippines for the acquisition of modern jeepneys. The banks are mandated to extend loans to jeepney operators adding modern units to their fleet.

The DBP, for one, has the Program Assistant to Support Alternative Driving Approaches, known as PASADA, that allows borrowers to get a loan of as much as 95 percent of the vehicle cost. The borrower pays a fixed interest rate of six percent per annum payable in seven years with a grace period of six months for the principal amount.

Bautista also called on transport groups planning to conduct a one-week strike to give the DOTr a chance to negotiate with them to resolve the matter.

In particular, Bautista said he tasked Transportation Undersecretary Mark Steven Pastor to listen to the plight of drivers and operators on the matter of jeepney modernization.

Transport groups, however, thumbed down the DOTr’s plea to forego its planned strike from March 6 to12 to protest the phaseout of public utility vehicles that fail to meet the government’s PUV modernization program.

Manibela president Mar Valbuena said that as long as the LTFRB fails to repeal its latest memorandum circular, the transport holiday will push through.

The LTFRB had set a June 30 deadline for single operators of jeepneys and UV Express Service units to consolidate or they will no longer be allowed on the road.

“Until they recall their MC, we will continue with the strike. Many have complied, but their memo, the guidelines they released are inhumane,” Balbuena said in an interview on One News’ The Chiefs.

Data from the LTFRB showed that over 50,000 jeepney units have yet to be consolidated and risk being taken off the road once the deadline lapses.

Valbuena said this is a low figure and that there are over 100,000 jeepneys and UV units could be affected by the MC. He noted that operators are being burdened by the LTFRB even if they have taken steps to consolidate.

He claimed that some applications of transport cooperatives were thrown out over the pandemic and that operators were instead asked to join existing cooperatives or corporations.

“The applications were thrown out. Now they give us three months and if we can’t comply, we can’t renew the provisional authority, we will be disposed of and completely phased out?” he said.

The transport leader said that three months will not be enough time for operators to form their own cooperatives. Valbuena also raised concerns over the steep prices of modernized units that could go up to millions of pesos for jeepneys.

More than 100,000 public utility vehicles are set to participate in a weeklong transport strike that will likely affect over 200,000 commuters in Metro Manila alone.

Contingency plan

The government has prepared a contingency plan should transport groups proceed with their week-long strike starting March 6, Bautista said yesterday.

He said various cooperatives that have already complied with the government’s jeepney modernization program will continue their operation.

He added different agencies such as the Philippine Coast Guard and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority have committed to provide vehicles for commuters who are likely to be affected.

“I am very positive that the issues surrounding [the modernization] will be discussed and the strike will not happen,” Bautista yesterday told reporters in Filipino.

For its part, the Philippine National Police (PNP) announced they will mobilize its vehicles to offer free rides to transport stranded commuters.

“The mobility assets of the PNP are on standby and will be deployed to assist commuters and fetch them,” PNP spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo said yesterday.

She urged members of the transport groups who are planning to hold protests to conduct their demonstrations peacefully, adding that their civil disturbance management teams are ready to respond if the protesters will resort to violence.

House committees to hold hearings during break

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Spread the loveMANILA – The House of Representatives has authorized for its committees to conduct hearings during the five-week congressional break, extending until late April.