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House to start probe on PUV modernization

Charles Dantes, Darwin G. Amojelar & Maricel Cruz

The House of Representatives committee on transportation is set to conduct a hearing next week on allegations of corrupt practices surrounding the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP).

Antipolo City Rep. Romeo Acop, the committee chairperson, said his panel is drafting a resolution to investigate the allegations and is finalizing details on the resource persons to be invited to the hearing.

Acop told the Manila Standard his committee also supported the call of Speaker Martin Romualdez to determine how Congress will be to protect jeepney drivers who will be affected by the PUVMP.

Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) decried what it called a disinformation campaign to sow fear among the drivers, operators, and the riding public against the PUVMP.

To minimize the impact of the deadline for consolidation, there are existing social support programs available to provide training scholarships and livelihood assistance packages, the department said.

“Not being able to form or join a cooperative or corporation does not lead to a loss of jobs,” it said.

The DOTr also said it has certified 54 PUV models that comply with the standards set by the government and they vary according to size, features and price ranges.

“Cooperatives are free to choose which type they prefer and can afford,” the agency said. “Local manufacturers have announced inexpensive models costing far below P2 million. No government agency or official is forcing any cooperative or transport group to buy the most expensive model.”

Romualdez earlier directed the House transportation committee to immediately look into reports received by my office that corrupt practices may have tainted the conceptualization and planned implementation” of the government’s PUVMP.

“The reports allege that existing transport officials are in cahoots with previous officials in negotiating for the imported modern jeepney units that will replace the old units,” Romualdez said.

At the same time, Romualdez urged the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to undertake a “complete review” and extend the implementation of the program.

Under the PUV modernization program, jeepney operators and drivers are required to join or group themselves into transport cooperatives for efficiency and better management and accountability.

They receive a certain amount of subsidy from the government for every old jeepney unit replaced with a modern, air-conditioned jeepney that looks like a mini-bus.

The DOTr gave jeepney operators and drivers until the end of 2023 to join or organize themselves into transport cooperatives. Those unable to do so were given until the end of this month to comply with the requirement.

Romualdez also cited the need for measures to protect the livelihoods of jeepney drivers, including providing assistance as they shift to new vehicles, ensuring access to affordable financing options, and offering training programs to help them adapt to new technologies.

“Moreover, we are exploring avenues to provide fixed income opportunities for drivers. This move aims to stabilize their earnings, helping them to plan and secure their financial futures more effectively. We believe that a stable income will not only benefit the drivers but will also contribute to a more organized and reliable transport system,” he said.

He said until these measures are in place, he was appealing to the DOTr “to conduct a complete review of the modernization program and extend the period of its implementation.”

The Office of Transport Cooperatives, on the other hand, said the majority of PUV operators support the government’s decision not to extend the deadline for consolidation.

“When our President extended [the deadline] back in March, President Marcos did that to accommodate those who were still asking questions—since he was still new, just one year in office at that time. That was a good move on the part of the President to say ‘I am listening to you,” OTC Chairman Jesus Ortega said in Filipino.

“But when he finally made the decision on Dec. 12 to really go for it, he also listened to the majority.”

Ortega also said reports of a P50 fare for modern jeepneys was baseless, adding that the government cannot impose new rates without proper consultations.

He said the government has maintained a two-peso difference between the rates for modern jeepneys at P15 and traditional ones at P13.

Ortega added that fuel price hikes dictate fare increase, not modernization.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) said an estimated 76 percent of all active public utility vehicles (PUVs) are now operated by cooperatives and corporations or are owned by operators who have applied for consolidation before the Dec. 31 deadline.

In a press conference, LTFRB board member Riza Paches said 145,721 PUVs, or 76 percent of all PUVs operating in fixed routes nationwide, are consolidated or have applied for consolidation.

Specifically, Paches said the consolidation rate for public utility jeepneys (PUJs) has reached 73.9 percent while UV Express (UVE) units have reached 82 percent.

She noted that the National Capital Region (NCR) has reported the highest number of last-minute consolidation applications, with 97 percent of registered PUVs having complied with the consolidation requirement.

These confirmed units, she added, are PUVs that have valid franchises or other necessary documentary requirements.

She noted that the consolidation applications received by the LTFRB exceeded their projections.

“Overall, we projected around 18,026. But after Dec. 31, those who consolidated and applied for consolidation were 25,629 units,” Paches said.

She said the consolidation campaign was “successful,” especially during the last stretch of December last year.

“The government agencies that have been opening up their offices, relaxing certain policies and requirements, and even reaching out to all these transport operators, were, to the LTFRB’s perspective, effective in trying to reach more than what we expected,” Paches said.

In the same press conference, LTFRB chair Teofilo Guadiz III said while some unconsolidated PUVs would be allowed to operate until Jan. 31, they would not be allowed to register with the Land Transportation Office (LTO) beyond that date without joining a transport cooperative or company.

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