By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senators are inclined to believe that the administration is not yet ready to implement its planned modernization of public utility vehicles (PUVs), specifically jeepneys.
This floated as the Senate committee on public services wrapped up Monday its inquiry into the Department of Transportation’s (DOTr) PUV Modernization Program, which it launched in June last year.
“Ang malinaw ang gobyerno ay hindi pa handa na i-phaseout ang mga public utility vehicles na noncompliant doon sa modernization requirements nila, dahil hindi nga malinaw kung anong requirements nila, eh (What’s clear is that the government is not yet prepared to phase out PUVs that are noncompliant to their modernization requirements, because their requirements itself are vague),” Sen. Grace Poe, committee chairwoman, said in adjourning the legislative inquiry on the matter.
Poe, recalling the transport groups’ lamentations, specifically noted that operators and drivers are still lost on how to avail of the government’s loan program so they could buy eco-friendly jeepney units worth P1.8 million at most.
Transport leaders, in the hearing, said state-owned banks require operators to have parking lots before being allowed to borrow funds for their purchase of new jeepneys. This requirement, they said, add to their burden of having to replace their old jeepney units.
Poe also stressed the lack of consultation between the DOTr, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and operators and stakeholders in the implementation of the program. She said jeepney drivers were not given the opportunity to air their concerns before orders were enforced.
The lady senator said she is also convinced that the government favored big and able corporations in granting new franchise under the modernization plan.
“So, sa ngayon, hindi pa handa ang gobyerno, mawawalan ng masasakyan ang ating mga kababayan, at mawawalan din ng trabaho ang marami (So now, the government is not ready, and our countrymen would be affected when we lose jeepneys, and many would lose their jobs as well),” Poe said.
“Ang sabi naman natin, na sa modernization, kailangan lang ligtas at ito’y compliant sa Clean Air Act. Bakit nila mamadaliin, at tatanggalan nila ng trabaho ang ilan daang libo na mga drivers natin (We believe that in the modernization of our jeepneys, they should be safe and compliant with the Clean Air Act. Now why would they rush and take away the livelihood of the hundreds and thousands of our drivers)?” she added.
In an interview with the Manila Bulletin after the hearing, DOTr Undersecretary Thomas Orbos said the agency is open to reviewing some of its guidelines to make the program more feasible.
“Let’s review some of the standards [on] how to bring it further down, to make it cheaper for our operators,” he said.
Orbos said the DOTr is willing to heed to the senators’ appeal.
“Of course we have to help each other out always. They (senators) are the ones who can also understand. And we’re willing to listen to them anytime,” the DOTr official said.
Poe said she is drafting the committee report on the investigation of her committee for plenary debates.
5-year transition pushed
During the hearing, Sen. Bam Aquino pushed for a five-year transition period, instead of the three-year transition planned by the DOTr for the full implementation of the PUV modernization plan.
Aquino referred to his Senate Bill 2056 which he filed Monday morning. It pushes for a “just transition” toward the modernization of PUVs.
In filing the measure, Aquino said it would be “impossible” for jeepney operators and drivers to afford the new jeepney units within three years.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, for his part, advised the agencies not to force all drivers to comply with the PUV modernization plan and instead let the riding public decide.
“Bakit hindi na lang gawing voluntarily? Bakit kailangang sapilitan? Dun sa may gustong mag modernize ng fleet, may programa kayo, pwede niyo gawin iyon and let the market decide. Tingnan natin kung saan sasakay ang mga tao. Tao ang papiliin natin kung gusto niyang sa electric vehicle sumakay dahil malinis sa kapaligiran. Willing ba syang magbayad ng mas mataas? May option iyong mananakay,” Recto told transport officials.
Poe supported her colleagues’ sentiments.
LTFRB chairman Martin Delgra told senators that they released a memorandum circular in March in their attempt to put a timeline for the consolidation of franchise holders, or operators, to a single cooperative “to make their operations more efficient.”
The MC 2018-008 stated that operators have one year since its effectivity — in this case March 2019 — to file their petition for the consolidation of their franchises.
Groups feared that their failure to consolidate their franchises would result in their displacement.
Delgra, in the hearing, conceded that they could extend the supposed timeline if operators could not comply.
“As in any planning for that matter, we need to set a timeline, if we say that we’ll be able to do it earlier, then okay. But if we’ll not be able to meet the deadline, then we would have to say, ‘We cannot do it realistically, we’ll have to extend,'” Delgra said.
Orbos, on the other hand, clarified that the LTFRB memorandum does not impose a deadline, but only serves as a “framework” so that they could finish the modernization plan within their three-year transition period.
He said the DOTr is open to accepting Aquino’s proposal.
“If we can accomplish it within three years, why not? But then kung [they are asking] for five years, so long as the framework remains, at naipaliwanag talaga na hindi kakayanin, ako I’m amenable to it,” Orbos told the Manila Bulletin.