Strike cripples public transport in Davao, GenSan, de Oro and Iligan

Local government units of these cities scrambled to take remedial steps to mitigate the effects of the crippling transport strike with the deployment of buses to ferry stranded commuters.

In Davao City, Land Transportation Office Region 11 director Gomer Dy said 31 buses of Bachelor Express, Metro Transit and Holiday Bus were fielded by the local government to take up the slack from striking drivers who have stopped plying their routes by midday today.

Taxi companies Mabuhay, Maligaya and Holiday, however, continued to service commuters through out the day.

Still, several Davao City schools like the Davao City High School, Sacred Heart College declared no classes this afternoon in case the strike worsens.

"We are expecting for the worse later this afternoon. We are closely monitoring if more drivers will join the strike," Dy said.

Edel Gonzaga, acting secretary-general of the transport group Transmision-Piston said the strike paralyzed 95 percent of the public transportation in Davao City.

"As of 10 a.m. today, only private cars and taxi cabs are plying the streets. The drivers of the few jeepneys you saw still plying their routes have promised they will stop later this afternoon," Gonzaga told MindaNews.

Elsewhere, the strike crippled 60 percent of the public transportation in Cagayan de Oro and 75 percent of Iligan's jeepneys did not show up in their routes this morning.

Sectoral Representative Joel Virador said the outpouring of public sympathy is"understandable" because the present administration of President Arroyo and Congress do not have "the political will" to stop the oil companies from "bleeding the people."

Virador said house bills 3029, 3030 and 3031, which called for the scrapping of the Oil Deregulation Law, the creation of centralized government oil procurement program, and getting back Petron to government control, respectively, have been shelved in Congress.

"Even the Senate refused to go against the oil companies. It is lamentable since the Senate is controlled by the opposition and yet the only measure the senators can think of is auditing the oil firms," Virador said.

In General Santos City, public transportation almost grounded to a halt for several hours this morning as majority of the city's 4,000-strong jeepney and tricycle drivers and operators joined the nationally-coordinated transport strike.

Marciano Estrada, secretary-general of the militant Transport Integrated for Restructuring of Economic Services-Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Tires-Piston), claimed they were able to paralyze transport operations in the city by at least 90 percent by the time the strike reportedly peaked at around 9 a.m. today.

He estimated that the number of private vehicles plying the city's streets was also reduced by at least 50 percent during the strike.

As a result of the protests, hundreds of students and government and private workers failed to make it to their destinations. But the city government later helped remedy the situation by dispatching at least 12 vehicles that offered free rides to various parts of the city.

"The transport sector is united in this fight against the rising oil prices and the national government's continuing neglect of our plight. We have proven that today and we will not hesitate to launch another one if necessary," Estrada told MindaNews.

Members of the 1,000-strong Tires-Piston launched the transport strike here at round 3 a.m. by converging in at least six "choke points" around the city.

Estrada said local members of Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Gabriela, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and even representatives from the religious sector also joined the striking drivers and operators at the "choke points," which are located at the main entry and exit points of the city.

At around 1 p.m., the placard-bearing protesters marched towards the vicinity of the depots of oil firms Petron, Shell and Caltex in barangay Bula here for a multisectoral protest rally.

The protesters reiterated their earlier call for the scrapping of the oil deregulation law, which they blamed for the continuing rise of the prices of oil products in the country.

"That (law) practically legalized the cartel of Shell, Petron and Caltex and encouraged other small oil companies to bleed us Filipinos of our hard-earned income in favor of their profits," said Roy Sande of Bayan Muna.

Meantime, the transport strike in Koronadal City and neighboring towns fizzled out reportedly due to lack of preparation.

"We did not have enough time to prepare for this because we only received the notice for the strike the other day," said Tony Espanola of urban poor group Kadamay.

He added that transport groups Bagong Alyansa ng mga Kubos na Operator at Drayber and the Nationalist Union of Transport and other local allied groups decided to just conduct a massive distribution of pamphlets and other protest materials at various public terminals in the city. (Froilan Gallardo and Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)