CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/27 February) — Commuters desperate to reach their destination grabbed whatever ride was available on Monday as a transport strike mounted by jeepney operators and drivers nationwide crippled 70 percent of public transport here.
Insp. Sebastian Chua Jr., chief of the Cagayan de Oro police traffic division said 70 percent of the jeepney drivers joined the strike against a government plan to modernize jeepneys by phasing out units older than 15 years.
“The strike started early at 4 a.m. and by 730 a.m., 70 percent of the jeepneys did not go out on the streets,” Chua said.
Striking drivers and operators set up several rally points at two road junctions in barangays Kauswagan and Lapasan to appeal to fellow drivers to join them.
Maricel Rivera Casino, city information officer, said the city government fielded all vehicles from their City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office to ferry stranded commuters.
Seven Super 5 buses were also deployed to ferry commuters for free between barangays Bulua and Lapasan.
Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez, spokesperson of the 4th Infantry Division said they fielded seven military trucks in Cagayan de Oro.
In a meeting with Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board, Rey Sampico, vice president of the operators and drivers group , STAREX-PISTON explained that the drivers are not opposing the government plan as long “as it is reasonable.”
Sampico said the plan which calls for the use of “wifis, electric vehicles, GPS (Global Positioning System), and new engines” is, however, “not reasonable.”
“Our jeepneys are old but it can carry heavy agricultural loads from the mountains. We do not need wifis and GPS because our passengers do not even know how to use them,” he argued.
He said the government plan to use electric cars is not feasible because these vehicles can not operate on a 24-hour basis.
He added they would call for more strikes in the future if the government insist on implementing the plan without consulting the operators and drivers.
In Iligan City, jeepney operations were also paralyzed but motorcycles swarmed the streets to take commuters to various destinations.
The strikers led by the Coalition of Lanao Utility Transport for Change gathered in five areas — the junction near Landbank in Palao, junction Tubod Highway and Baraas, Highway in Canaway near MSU-IIT, overpass in Tambo, and in Nunucan Bridge near the former National Steel Corp.
“Junk the phaseout”
Bayan Muna Rep.Carlos Isagani Zarate meanwhile called on the transportation department to junk its proposed jeepney phaseout policy.
“At the current state of the country’s transport system where narrow streets and alleys where buses can hardly fit, public utility jeepneys (PUJs) are the most suited to transport people from the side streets to the main thoroughfares,” he said in a statement Monday.
He noted that the jeepney is a source of livelihood for many Filipinos.
“It would be a big blow to our economy if the government phases out these PUJs in the absence of an efficient mass transport system,” he added.
In a statement Monday, the Advocates of Science and Technology for the People said that while the e-jeepneys or Euro-4 compliant units, which will be imported from abroad, have lower carbon emissions compared to traditional models, these are much more expensive.
“While we agree that there is a need to upgrade and modernize our transportation sector, it should not be done at the expense of small drivers and operators. The planned jeepney phaseout would undoubtedly result to the economic displacement of 600,000 drivers and 250,000 operators who have no way of financing the hefty cost of the new jeepney models,” the group said.
The new models reportedly cost P900,000 to P1.2 million each.
The group warned that placing the management of jeepney fleets in the hands of private companies reportedly behind the planned phaseout will result in “lofty increases in the name of profit”.
“Instead of corporatization, the government should help the drivers/operators to handle the management of the fleet under a cooperative system where control and ownership of the fleet still rests with them. It should also aid the drivers and operators in shouldering the cost of new technology, within a justifiable and viable terms,” it added. (Froilan Gallardo and Bobby Timonera/MindaNews)