By Tonyo Cruz
This week, tens of thousands of jeepney drivers and operators, together with commuter groups and workers’ organizations waged the biggest and most paralyzing transport strike in recent memory.
It is a life-or-death issue for public transport workers, if we take a close look at what they’re saying.
For instance, 11 organizations — No to Jeepney Phaseout Coalition, PISTON, Kilusang Mayo Uno, NTJPOC of Makati, Bayyo Association, Inc. (Bai), Rizal Alliance vs PUJ Phaseour, Camanava Transport Alliance against Jeepney Phaseout, Riles Laan sa Sambayanan Network, All Workers’ Unity, and Kilos Na Manggagawa — released this statement:
“Contrary to government’s claims, Duterte’s phaseout program, through the Department of Transportation’s Omnibus Franchising Guidelines, is not modernization but an abandonment of its constitutional duty to provide a safe, efficient, and affordable mass transport system as a public service. Just as it did with other public services and utilities, Duterte is handing over our mass transport system to the monopoly control of profit-greedy oligarchs and foreign big automotive corporations,” the statement said.
If it goes unchallenged, the so-called modernization plan would have terrible consequences to millions, starting with public transport workers while at the same time giving oligarchs what they want: “The Duterte administration wants to massacre the livelihood of over 600,000 PUJ drivers and 300,000 small operators and turn our PUJ’s operations into a milking cow of his big business cronies, the Ayalas, Pangilinans, Aboitizes, and Cojuangcos. This would also result in an employment crisis as millions will be added in the already ever-increasing number of unemployed Filipinos.”
“For commuters, it would result in unabated fare hikes with the minimum fare increasing to at least 20 pesos through the Ayala-owned BEEP automated fare collection system. It would also cause greater inconveniences as the route rationalization and fleet management scheme would set lesser PUJ routes to favor private vehicles and the big business owned Bus-Rapid-Transit. This would also not ease the traffic crisis as PUJs only compose 2% of total registered vehicles in the country,” the groups stressed.
Taxpayers too would be molested by the “modernization” racket: “Duterte’s phaseout program would also be a burden to all taxpayers as the government also aims to impose greater taxes through the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act (TRAIN) to subsidize the big businesses and banks investing in the program.”
The DOTr cannot all of a sudden pretend to be pro-commuter. It has a well-established reputation as a foe of consumers, and a champion of big, bad taxi operators, remember? It is a dimwitted agency that cannot fully comprehend and thus fail to see offer pro-people solutions to our transport woes every day.
Again, let the strikers tell it in their own words: “PUJ drivers, operators and commuters should not be the ones to suffer for the government’s bureaucratic corruption, transport misgovernance and private profit oriented policies that has resulted in the country’s anarchic and Big Business-controlled transport system. The PUJ system is in fact a solution developed by poor Filipinos to cover-up for the government’s failure to address their mass transport woes.”
A government that smooches oligarchs would naturally recoil at this straightforward challenge: “Instead of phasing out PUJs, the government should promote modernization through the nationalization of an affordable, safe, and efficient mass transport system. The government can start by taking back the MRT and LRT from the Ayalas and Pangilinans and improve its operations to cover the riding public mass transport needs.”
By the way, folks, the groups led by PISTON do not oppose genuine modernization. What they want is the same kind of modernization we also want – pro-people, pro-consumer, pro-innovation, pro-Filipino entrepreneur.
In their statement, they unequivocally state: “Rather than subsidizing the onerous importation and procurement of new PUJ units, the government can use its funds to support our local jeepney manufacturers by subsidizing their modernization and development of greener PUJs.”
We commuters know the government’s flawed concept of “modernization” goes in real life. First, it implements a policies of planned obsolescence, epic ineptitude, and paltry state subsidy until we all complain and to prepare the ground for the entry of oligarchs and their banks. Second, it offers privatization or sellout to these oligarchs and banks. Third, it would “subsidize” the oligarchs and banks in their public transport ventures. Fourth, it will approve increases in fares and reduce whatever subsidies exist. Fifth, it will offer more privatization to solve the new and worse ills caused by privatization.
That’s what they did to MRT and LRT, right? They “modernized” it thru privatization and corporatization. And the problems only got worse for commuters. The PNR is now being sentenced to be sold at bargain-basement prices after neglecting it and leaving it cash-strapped for years.
Commuters know better than the DOTr, if you ask me. Commuters properly demand the prioritization of millions who have no private means of transport, and to promote employment, education and entrepreneurship. Commuters demand modes of mass transport that are fast, reliable, mass-based and controlled by the people through a competent government that does not sell us out for private gain.
Between now and a future with modern jeepneys, buses and mass rail, we have no choice but to prioritize and defend the inherent public character of mass transport. The DOTr is not unaware of this. It is attacking this very important concept through a shambolic “modernization” program that would throw out hundreds of thousands into joblessness and bankruptcy, give business to oligarchs and adversely affect our daily lives.
Faced with a tyrannical government that loves oligarchs and has no respect to our dignity: Strike back, we must.
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