Government authorities showed up at the protest of Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operators Nationwide (Piston) and No To Jeepney Phase Out Coalition in Manila today and tried to tow the jeepneys that protesters brought with them.
As the drivers were gathering in front of the University of Sto. Tomas along España, dozens of elements from the Land Transportation Office (LTO), Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and Philippine National Police (PNP) showed up with five wrecker trucks. The drivers were only assembling to march to Mendiola.
Tension broke when representatives of various government agencies tried to tow the jeepneys. PISTON members sat down the street to prevent the tow trucks from moving. It was as if the government agencies were rehearsing for Duterte’s pronouncement of towing the jeepneys come January 1.
Officials of the LTO and LTFRB also tried to list down the plate numbers of the jeepneys by tearing down posters that covered their body numbers, but drivers stopped them.
The march was interrupted when members of LTO and LTFRB blocked one of the vehicles of PISTON along Morayta. Marchers drove away the enforcers to let the jeepney pass through.
An unidentified armed man in LTFRB uniform was pointed out by the drivers. Protesters decried the harassment and pushed the LTFRB personnel away from their ranks.
A new round of tension rose as the tow trucks attempted back into the jeepneys, but members of Piston stood their ground until they successfully drove away the trucks.
Drivers were irked by MMDA Spokesperson Celine Pialago, who were commanding the operators of wrecker trucks to continue moving or find a way to move the human blockade, even as the drivers were standing by. When confronted by the drivers, Pialago waved them away with her hands, told them to shut up and told them she was not asking for their opinions.
Also spotted during the transport caravan were some 100 members of the Manila Police District and a truckload of armed soldiers who accompanied the protest to Mendiola.
The groups postponed the scheduled two-day transport strike scheduled for December 4 and 5 after heeding the call of Senator Grace Poe for a Senate hearing on the issue on Thursday, December 7.
The LTFRB, meanwhile, announced that they would be ready for a surprise transport strike. PISTON members belied such speculation as they said they were geared to attend the Senate hearing to seek solutions to the problems presented them by the Department of Transportation’s Omnibus Franchising Guidelines or one of the documents found to be the basis of the ‘jeepney phaseout.’
While the DOTr and the LTFRB maintained that the program is for modernization, PISTON called it a jeepney phaseout, where 250,000 of 270,000 jeepneys all over the country would be prevented from plying the roads come January 2018. They also called it a marketing program as they would be forced to buy from a limited selection of expensive jeepney units, which have the same price as sports utility vehicles at as much as P1.6 million, to be able to join the government’s modernization program.
The subsidy offered by the government for 2018 until 2021 could be availed by 28,000 drivers, leaving at least 222,000 without possible source of aid. Drivers also said the subsidy would only be used for them to to be able to get a loan from the bank. The bank then would charge 6% interest per annum, setting them bank to as much as P2.2 million pesos or an interest of more than P500,000 that they would need to pay within six to seven years. They would need to pay P24,000 per month or P800 per day for 30 days without rest. The current jeepney boundary is twice the possible daily loan payment.
Duterte, speaking in a federalism summit the same day as the second day of the transport strike on October 17, told drivers: “Sumunod kayo because January 1, ‘pag may makita ako diyan mga jeep ninyo na walang rehistro, hindi narehistro, luma, guguyurin ko ‘yan sa harap ninyo… Pag di kayo na modernize, umalis kayo. Mahirap kayo… sige. Magtiis kayo sa hirap at gutom. Wala ako pakialam.”
[You should comply because January 1, if I seen any jeep without registration, not registered, old, I will tow those jeeps in front of you… If you do not modernize, go away. You are poor, fine. Endure your hardships and hunger. I don’t care.)
Jeepneys has served the public transport needs of the public in the last 50 years, in what remains to be the absence of a mass transport system in the country.