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Monday, July 15, 2024

No extension on PUVMP plan

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Marcos says Dec. 31 deadline stays; PISTON says strike still on

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Tuesday announced that there would be no extension for the Dec. 31, 2023 deadline for the consolidation of public utility vehicles (PUV) operators.

His announcement was met by anger from public transport group PISTON, which had already announced a strike starting Thursday and urged the public to wear blue shirts today (Wednesday) to show solidarity with jeepney drivers and operators who could lose their livelihoods.

Another PUV group, Manibela, hinted at joining forces with PISTON’s strike from Dec. 14 to 15, which would be the fifth major transport strike this year.

In a post on his X social media account, the President said most operators have already committed to the government’s Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP).

“Today, we held a meeting with transport officials, and it was decided that the deadline for the consolidation of public utility vehicles (PUV) operators will not be extended,” Mr. Marcos said.

“Currently, 70 percent of all operators have already committed to and consolidated under the PUVMP,” he added.

Moreover, the President said the government could not let the minority cause further delays and affect various sectors and the public.

He said adhering to the program’s timeline ensures that the whole country would be able to reap the benefits of the government’s transport modernization program.

But PISTON, in a statement released on social media, said Mr. Marcos was being deceived by the numbers from government agencies and declared “Tuloy ang Welga” (the strike goes on).

The group said that only 26 percent of PUV operators in the National Capital Region have agreed to surrender their franchise for consolidation since the PUVMP was implemented in 2018, indicating its unpopularity.

If the consolidation deadline pushes through at yearend, PISTON said about 64,000 PUV drivers and 25,000 operators would lose their livelihoods after Dec. 31.

“If this pushes through, a transport crisis evidently awaits the country, especially in the NCR, which is the current economic center of the Philippines,” the group said on X.

The franchise consolidation component of the PUVMP mandates all operators to surrender individual franchises for consolidation into a single one owned by a cooperative or corporation serving a specific route, a principle the LTFRB calls “one route, one franchise, one operator.”

PISTON argues this scheme leads to monopoly and corporate capture of public transport in the Philippines, as only large, financially viable cooperatives or corporations can comply with the costly modernization standards.

Thousands of small-time operators, representing approximately 80 percent of all PUV operators, and many drivers face displacement by the end of the year, the group said.

Manibela, which held two strikes last November, also said on social media that it planned to join PISTON in one last “big-time” strike to end 2023 as its own pleas to stop the PUVMP were not being heard.

Senator Grace Poe, on the other hand, again called for a review of the PUVMP, saying it lacks safety nets for drivers and operators who will bear the brunt of the consolidation deadline.

For 2024, she said the program will get a budget of P1.6 billion, but this does not cover measures to protect the livelihood of some 300,000 drivers.

“We were promised that they will study the program before any deadline in December,” she said.

Poe, chairperson of the Senate committee on public services, said that funds have been set aside for the Department of Transportation (DOTr) since 2018 to formulate a route plan for the PUVs.

The route rationalization study is a crucial component of the program since it will determine the number of jeepneys, UV express, and buses needed to ply a particular route, which will ensure the viability of their operations, the senator said.

However, to date, only 9.5 percent or 155 of the 1,575 local government units have approved route plans.

“Why are there so many deadlines and requirements for the driver while the deadline of the DOTr and the LTFRB (Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board) for their route [plan] has not been [met]?”

“Now, they’re saying there’s an approved route for the half of the country by June 2024. But since this provision is not in the budget, we will again be hoping for nothing,” she said.

The senator warned that pursuing the Dec. 31 consolidation deadline would affect thousands of drivers who have yet to organize themselves into cooperatives.

She also said of the P2.5 million cost per unit of a modern jeepney, the government will subsidize only 8.4 percent or P210,000.

To subsidize around 300,000 PUV units, Poe said the government will need at least P63 billion, which is not in the 2024 budget.

She said PUV drivers could not be blamed for organizing another transport strike to air their legitimate concerns against the PUVMP.

Poe had filed Senate Bill No. 105 to ensure a “just and humane public utility vehicle modernization program” by providing affordable loans to jeepney drivers and cash subsidies to those who would not be able to comply with the new policies.

The measure is still being tackled in the Senate. Also on Tuesday, the LTFRB pointed out that some transport groups have come forward to support the PUVMP.

LTFRB spokesperson Celine Pialago said the pro-PUVMP rally was held in Mendiola, Manila, but she did not say which groups joined the demonstration.

But a group calling itself the Philippine Cooperative Center issued a statement saying that on Dec. 12, cooperative and corporate transport groups of the United Transport Consolidated Entities of the Philippines marched to the Palace to show their support for the PUVMP.

“This only shows that most of our transport groups… support the government’s initiative of providing commuters with safer, more efficient, and environmentally sustainable transport,” LTFRB chief Teofilo Guadiz III said.

The group of jeepney drivers and operators assembled in Mendiola and in Quezon City, carrying signs “no to Extension’’ and “yes to PUVMP budget,” the LTFRB said.

The pro-modernization groups said they oppose the extension of the consolidation deadline on Dec. 31, saying it would be unfair to those who have complied with the directive.

At least 120 groups have already consolidated for the program in Metro Manila, and 1,700 others across the country.

Guadiz earlier said there would be no phaseout of traditional jeepneys after the deadline for consolidation. He also said the consolidation deadline does not mean traditional jeepneys would no longer be allowed to ply the roads in 2024.

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