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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Manibela begins own PUV strike but Piston, 3 groups not joining

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By Rio N. Araja and Maricel V. Cruz

Transport group Manibela will pick up where the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operators Nationwide (Piston) will leave off, declaring its own three-day nationwide strike starting today until Nov. 24 to oppose the government’s Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP).

Piston’s members are not joining Manibela’s protests, the latter’s president Mar Valbuena told the Standard, as about 150,000 PUV units are joining his group’s strike across the Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Central Visayas, Western Visayas, Northern Mindanao, and Central Mindanao regions.

Piston’s three-day protest ends today as it is following its own schedule, the group’s president Mody Floranda said.

Three other transport groups are also sitting out the Manibela strike, but emphasized that they shared Piston’s complaints against the PUVMP and the incumbent Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) leadership.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) are deploying five “rescue vehicles” offering free rides to commuters to help the administration address the transport strike that has so far failed to cripple public transportation in Metro Manila.

“The House of the People is always working in collaboration with the Marcos government through the MMDA to alleviate the inconvenience caused to commuters by the transport strike. We have taken this joint initiative to ensure that stranded commuters have available rides to their work or home,” Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez said in a statement.

“During this period of strike, I commend MMDA acting chair (Romando) Artes for working with us in ensuring the continued accessibility of reliable public transportation services,” Romualdez said.

Artes said the MMDA and the House have deployed the buses since Monday to augment the number of vehicles provided by local governments and other agencies offering free rides to affected commuters.

In an interview, Liga ng Transportasyon at Operators sa Pilipinas (LTOP) national president Orlando Marquez Sr. said even the Federation of Jeepney Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines (Fejodap) and Pasang Masda will not be joining Manibela’s picket lines.

Marquez said they want to personally appeal to President Marcos to help make modernization more manageable to operators.

“(LTFRB) Chairman (Teofilo) Guadiz (III) insists that our members pay the fines we incurred during the pandemic, when we were not making any money and our families were starving. The LTFRB earlier head already agreed during our meetings to condone these fines. This issue is getting in the way of the modernization of jeepneys,” Marquez said in Filipino.

Valbuena of Manibela lamented that the government has continued to ignore their sentiments, and that the Department of Transportation and LTFRB “are just taking them for a ride.”

Pasang Masda leader Roberto “Ka Obet” Martin, however, said a transport strike or holiday is not a solution to the modernization issue.

“Even jeepney drivers (who go on strike) are already tired,” he said.

“Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista has been attending dialogues with the drivers. I am not saying that I am siding with the government, but the government is also trying to understand us,” he added.

In a Viber message, LTFRB spokesperson Celine Pialago said the agency is addressing all of Piston’s requests, “but we’re in the process of finalizing necessary documents, which will take some time.”

“As mentioned earlier, LTFRB chairperson Teofilo Guadiz III confirms that waiving penalties, extending franchise validity to five years, and removing certain challenging parts of the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines are doable,” she said.

“However, the request to scrap the consolidation process is not feasible. Still, chair Guadiz suggests that we can make the process simpler,” she added.

The LTFRB has set a Dec. 31 deadline for jeepney operators to consolidate and form an association as mandated by the modernization program.

Guadiz earlier said the deadline would not lead to the phaseout of the old jeepneys, citing these could still operate for as long as they were roadworthy based on the standards of the Land Transportation Office.

But Valbuena believes if the deadline is not extended, the old jeepneys would render them “colorum” (illegal) on Jan. 1, 2024.

“If this is so, I am sure of bigger transport strikes to welcome the new year,” he said.

Ariel Inton of the Lawyers for Commuters Safety and Protection, a former LTFRB board member and a consultant for Piston, yesterday discussed several issues with Guadiz in a closed-door meeting.

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