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Philippine driver strike spurs review of modernization plan

PHILIPPINE transport groups aborted a plan for a week-long strike after the government of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. agreed to revise its modernization plan and the phaseout of traditional public utility vehicles.

Manibela President Mar S. Valbuena and Piston President Modesto Floranda on Tuesday night met with Presidential Communications Office (PCO) chief Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil and a representative of Executive Secretary Lucas P. Bersamin to discuss their plight.

“Our group has decided to stop the transport strike alongside Piston and resume our operations starting tomorrow (Wednesday),” Mr. Valbuena said in a video posted by the presidential palace.

The palace said Mr. Marcos had ordered the Department of Transportation (DoTr) and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to use the Dec. 31 extension for franchise consolidation to study the provisions of DoTr’s 2017 modernization order and ensure the concerns of drivers and operations are taken into account.

Both agencies would consult with stakeholders to better enforce the policy, which should prioritize the welfare of transport players and commuters, it added.

Under the original modernization plan, drivers and operators must form cooperatives or get their franchises revoked.

The original deadline for the consolidation-or-lose-franchise rule was Jun. 30, but it was extended after the transport sector threatened to strike.

The LTFRB earlier said the extension was not prompted by the strike announcement. Last week, it said it would prepare the guidelines on the consolidation and modernization program. It also said it would look at whether operators could keep their franchises without joining a cooperative.

The government had downplayed the impact of the strike, which prompted schools and businesses in Metro Manila and other areas to let students and employees study and work from home.

Mr. Floranda has attributed tactical gains of the two-day strike to protesting drivers and commuters who understood their plight.

He said their call had been clearly registered after at least 80% of the capital region’s national roads were paralyzed on the second day of the strike. 

Mr. Floranda said they would continue to call for the junking of the phaseout plan. “Our worries will not go away as long as it’s there.”

Mr. Marcos said last week some jeepneys were still in good condition.

Jeepneys, which cost P150,000 to 200,000, are the cheapest and most popular mode of transportation in the Philippines, originating at the end of World War II when Filipinos recycled old jeeps left by American forces into minibuses.

The modernization program was first launched under ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte in 2017. It sought to phase out all jeepneys by 2020 and replace them with vehicles powered by Euro-4 engines, which cost as much as P2.5 million per unit.

Mr. Marcos on Wednesday said the extension of the deadline for the franchise consolidation was enough for the state to address the transport sector’s concerns and inspect jeepneys to ensure the safety of both drivers and commuters.

“For now, we are ensuring that the vehicles are safe,” he said. “Our discussion was good. We have given the government together with the transport groups enough time — we postponed the consolidation deadline until December. I think that’s enough to fix the system.”

“We have never wavered in asking our friends from Manibela and Piston to sit down with us, to thresh out their concerns about the modernization plan,” LTFRB Chairman Teofilo E. Guadiz III said in a statement on Wednesday. “We are glad they listened to our president.”

“I will listen to their complaints, issues and we will work together so we can implement the modernization as efficiently as we can, considering what their concerns and what their recommendations are,” Transport Secretary Jaime J. Bautista told a briefing. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Justine Irish D. Tabile

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