DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/31 March) – Strikes called by militant drivers and activists today crippled public transportation here and in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, forcing local governments to deploy buses to ferry stranded commuters.
Elsewhere, the strike protesting rising fuel prices failed to generate enough support in the cities of Malaybalay, Valencia, Kidapawan, Zamboanga and General Santos.
Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte issued warnings against the drivers and strikers after vehicle owners complained that most of the city’s roads and highways were laced with iron spikes.
“They are successful already in crippling public transport. What more can they ask? They should not inconvenience the public,” Duterte told reporters.
The militants belonging to Transmission Southern Mindanao, Network and Storm denied they were responsible for the iron spikes.
Giovanni Aportadera, chief of the city information office, said 50 buses from various companies were tapped to operate in major routes in the city, with the city government providing food and water for the drivers. Each of the bus was accompanied by a policeman or a soldier.
In Cagayan de Oro, the protesters earned praise from the police who lauded them for the peaceful and orderly conduct of the transport strike.
Newly installed City Police Director Sr. Supt. Gerardo Rosales said the strike crippled 95 percent of Cagayan de Oro’s public transportation.
Protesters started manning rally points in seven major junctions in the city at 4 a.m. and started marching towards the junction of Velez St. and C.M. Recto Ave., the city’s busiest streets, around 2:30 p.m. for a protest rally culminating the day-long protest.
Transport paralysis peaked from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. according to Councilor Alden Bacal, chairman of the city council’s public utilities committee, citing an assessment from the Road Traffic Administration.
He said most of the drivers who participated were from the jeepney and motorela sector.
Bacal said the city government fielded all their vehicles to ferry stranded commuters.
In neighboring Iligan City, there were virtually no public transport running downtown, except for the horse-drawn tartanillas and the bicycle powered trisikads. There were, however, some enterprising colorum motorcycle drivers charging exorbitant rates but Land Transportation Office personnel apprehended some of them.
A group of protesters from the Coalition of Lanao Utility Transport for Change (Clutch) with streamers gathered outside the post office, right in the middle of the city. Jeepneys started showing up downtown by 6 p.m.
In Malaybalay City, protesters managed to stop the traffic for two hours early this morning but they lifted the barricade at the highway before noon.
Close to 300 protesters also joined a barricade in Valencia City, but as in Malaybalay City, the barricade was lifted before noon.
A hundred protesters converged in Plaza Pershing in Zamboanga City calling for the repeal of the Oil Deregulation Law but pedicab drivers continued to ply their routes.
In Kidapawan City, some 60 vans plying the Kidapawan-Davao route joined the strike that started at 5 a.m. But tricycle drivers were busy driving around town as usual.
The transport strike in General Santos City fizzled out after protest organizers failed to muster enough support from local transport operators and drivers.
Some 200 protesters gathered at various chokepoints in General Santos before staging a caravan around the city.
In Koronadal City, no transport strike ever happened after majority of the city’s more than 3,000 tricycle operators and drivers decided not to join.
Yellow Bus Line, Inc., the area’s biggest bus operator, and two other bus companies continued with their normal operations, heeding a directive issued Wednesday from the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).
The LTFRB warned bus operators that it would face the possible revocation of their franchises if they join the nationwide transport strike and protest actions.
Energy Undersecretary Ina Magpale-Asirit told reporters in Davao City said it is highly unlikely that government will repeal the Oil Deregulation Law and revert to regulating the oil industry.
Asirit said the government will have to spend P2 billion a month to subsidize the furl of public transportation.
Edil Gonzaga, secretary-general of the transport group Transmission in Southern Mindanao, said that since January this year, prices of oil have increased 10 times, eating up into much of the drivers’ earnings.
“’Every month, oil companies rake in millions and billions of profits while drivers and consumers are starving, reeling from the high prices of oil and basic commodities,”’ Gonzaga lamented.
Sonny Hinosolango, secretary-general of the Solidarity of Transport Alliance in Region X (Starex), said they would press on with bigger rallies if government will not do something with the rising fuel prices. (MindaNews reports from Germelina Lacorte, BenCyrus G. Ellorin, Keith Bacongco, Walter I. Balane, Allen V. Estabillo, Violeta Gloria, Malu Cadeliña Manar)