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Special unit gears up for jeepney strike

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MALACAñANG told jeepney operators intending to go on strike next Monday and Tuesday to do their protest rallies peacefully amid government announcement it would reactivate its special unit to assist commuters should the strike push through.

In the Senate, Senator Grace Poe urged transport groups to call off their plan to mount a two-day transport strike as she sought a dialogue to address their concerns about the government’s jeepney modernization program—which would include vehicle inspection tests starting in 2018.

“Of course, it’s their right to hold a protest rally, but all forms of protests should be done in a peaceful manner,” Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said.

Andanar’s pronouncements was seen as a subtle turn from the strongly-worded statement from Palace Spokesman Harry Roque, who warned that drivers and operators should refrain from joining another round of transport strikes or face hefty sanctions from the government. 

The move to reactive the Quick Reaction Unit followed reports that transport groups would push through with their planned protest on Monday and Tuesday despite a warning from government they might face legal consequence and sanctions on their franchises.

“Yes, we prepared measures, and we have a group who will monitor the strike. At 4 am we have representatives from our metrobase,” said Jose Arturo Garcia Jr., assistant general manager for planning of the Metro Manila Development Auhtority.

In a statement, Poe, chairman of the Senate committee on public services, said she would call for an urgent hearing on Dec. 7 to address issues surrounding the planned modernization, which could mean a phaseout of current jeepney models.

“I understand that certain issues in the modernization program still need to be carefully studied and threshed out with the concerned government agencies…We also want to hear the alternative proposals from different stakeholders,” she said.

Poe is set to file a resolution Monday seeking the committee hearing.

Militant group Piston had threatened to once again hold protests against the planned phase out of jeepneys which would not pass the vehicle inspection test, starting Jan. 1, 2018.

George San Mateo, Piston national president, alleged that the modernization program was only a “front” to sell Euro 4-compliant and electric-powered vehicles to jeepney drivers and operators.

Meanwhile, a consumer group scored the Transportation Department’s plan to modernize jeepneys, saying they were only meant to “allow big vehicle manufacturers and transport operators to take over the industry.”

“We all want a modern, safe and convenient transport system. But please do not use us for a ‘modernization program’ that will fleece commuters with exorbitant fares and destroy the livelihood of thousands of small jeepney drivers and operators. Not in our name!” Donna Miranda of the Train Riders Network (TREN), one of the convenors of Samahan at Ugnayan ng mga Konsyumer para sa Ikauunlad ng Bayan or SUKI, said. 

“The main agenda of the program is to allow big vehicle manufacturers to sell jeepneys and for big transport operators to take over the industry. The burden of shouldering this multibillion profiteering scheme will be on hapless drivers forced to buy high-priced vehicles, and commuters forced to cough up higher fares,” she added. 

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board has said that fare increases will cover losses, inflation or fuel price increases, and serve as an “incentive” towards modernization. 

“As consumers who are facing a significant increase in basic utilities and products due to additional taxes starting January next year, low-income Filipinos who comprise most of the jeepney-riding public will be burdened further by such fare hikes.,” Miranda said. 

The public should be consulted on the route rationalization scheme proposed by the LTFRB as commuter access to minor and major routes will be affected, the gorup said. 

Garcia said one of the MMDA’s response measures was to activate “Kalayaan Rides,” or free rides involving the deployment of military trucks and rescue vehicles to pick up stranded passengers along major thoroughfares.

“We (MMDA) have ferries and four buses, and other vehicles from the PNP (Philippine National Police) and Army. We are in close coordination,” he said.  

Aside from MMDA, PNP and Armed Forces, the task force team is also composed of men from the Land Transportation Office, departments of Public Works and Highways, and Transportation, and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board.

The government formed the team as part of its contingency plans to address problems that would arise during transport strikes and glitches involving the Metro Railway Transit 3 which would affect passengers during rush hours.

MMDA general manager Thomas Orbos earlier called on officials and members of the Piston) and other militant transport groups to “put the interest of the riding public at front and center.”

Orbos also mentioned that Transporation secretary Arthur Tugade already directed the LTFRB to pursue the cancellation of the franchises and licenses of the PUV operators and drivers who would join the planned transport strikes. 


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