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Investigate ‘corruption’ in PUV modernization

Charles Dantes, Maricel Cruz, Macon Ramos-Araneta & Rio N. Araja

Speaker asks DOTr to do thorough review of program

Speaker Martin Romualdez called for a congressional inquiry in aid of legislation into the alleged “corruption” issues surrounding the jeepney modernization program.

In a statement, Romualdez said he will call on the House Committee on Transportation chaired by Antipolo City Rep. Romeo Acop to investigate the reports reaching his office indicating that alleged corrupt practices may have influenced the conceptualization and planned implementation of the program.

“The reports alleged 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.

He also appealed to the Department of Transportation to conduct a thorough review of the modernization program and extend the period of its implementation until measures aimed at protecting the jeepney drivers are set in place.

“It is crucial to acknowledge that at the heart of this modernization are the jeepney drivers – the hardworking individuals who have been the backbone of our local transport industry for decades. Their welfare is our primordial concern. As we transition to modernized jeepneys, we recognize the challenges faced by drivers and operators,” he said.

“Until these measures aimed at protecting our jeepney drivers are set in place, I appeal to the Department of Transportation to conduct a complete review of the modernization program and extend the period of its implementation,” the Speaker added.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., meanwhile, challenged the DOTr to disclose the companies or countries from which it intends to buy modern jeepneys under the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program.

The modern jeepneys, which are like mini-buses, will replace the traditional jeepneys, which will be phased out.

He said the DOTr should also reveal the middlemen who stand to gain from the transactions.

The DOTr, he said, should also divulge the original “brains” behind the modernization program.

Under the program, jeepney operators and drivers were compelled to join cooperatives to avail of the loan for the procurement of a modern jeep, which costs at least P2 million.

Pimemtel said the procurement must go through a public bidding, since this will involve public funds.

Drivers and operators will get a P200,000 subsidy for the new units, accounting for only 10 percent of the total cost.

Under the 2024 budget, P1.6 billion has been allocated for the PUVMP.

Earlier, Pimentel called for the suspension of the modernization program while Congress scrutinized the plan.

The DOTr has yet to comment on the statements of Romualdez and Pimentel even as it denied the claim by some jeepney groups that fare hikes will go up steeply because of the PUVMP).

“We are reminding our commuters that the rumors of a 300 percent to 400 percent fare increase have no basis and such a steep hike is not expected due to the consolidation and PUV Modernization Program,” Transport Undersecretary Timothy Batan said in Filipino.

He said such a fare increase would have to first pass the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

On Wednesday, groups opposed to the PUVMP expressed their concerns about the possibility of a steep increase in minimum fares for modern jeepneys, citing the high cost of the PUVMP and its financial burden on drivers and operators.

The LTFRB also allayed fears over the possibility of fare hikes reaching P50.

LTFRB chairperson Teofilo Guadiz III said the projection was “statistically impossible” as he assured the public that imposing such an exorbitant fare will never happen.

“P15 is too far from P50. There is no truth to what is being floated. That’s statistically impossible for modern jeepneys to impose exorbitant fares,” he added.

The transport group Manibela, for its part, urged other senators to follow Pimentel’s call to suspend the program.

In an interview, Manibela president Mar Valbuena took a swipe at Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of the committee on public services, for her failure to come up with a position on the government’s modernization program that he said would hurt not only the operators and drivers but also the riding public.

“Why is it that Senators Risa Hontiveros, Joel Villanueva, Nancy Binay, Jinggoy Estrada and JV Ejercito are silent about this?” he asked.

Pimentel said there was a need to study the program further.

“They (committee members) should call for an investigation,” Valbuena told the Manila Standard.

He said traffic enforcers from the Land Transportation Office have been harassing drivers jeepneys whose franchises remained unconsolidated in Region 2, and have been forcing passengers to get down “in an effort to coerce operators to join the consolidation program.”

“The same thing is also happening in Region 6,” he said.

Also on Thursday, the labor group Partido Manggagawa (PM) called on the government to extend the deadline for consolidation of jeepneys by one year instead of one month as both the government and operators are not yet prepared.

Traditional jeepneys with individual franchises have been allowed to continue operating in routes with less than 60 percent consolidation according to a memo circular from the LTFRB.

In a statement, the labor group also supported the call of Pimentel that the government be transparent about the suppliers of the minibuses.

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