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Manibela to join Piston’s transport strike, LTFRB downplays effect

STRIKE DAY ONE. Commuters jostle with each other to board a jeepney along JP Rizal cor. Marcos Highway in Pasig City on Monday on the first day of the three-day strike held by transport group Piston, whose members held pocket protests in Caloocan, Pasig, Taguig, Marikina, and Makati cities. Manny Palmero
Rio N. Araja, Joel E. Zurbano & Maricel Cruz

Manibela, another major transport group, said it is joining the three-day strike launched Monday by Piston (Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operators Nationwide) to protest the government public utility vehicle (PUV) modernization program that seeks to replace old diesel-burning jeepneys with modern units with lower carbon emissions.

Manibela chairman Mar Valbuena said his group sent members to three Piston strike centers in Monumento in Caloocan City, San Andres Bukid in Manila, and Marikina City to join the protest.

Piston, which touts around 120,000 members, began its strike Monday, with several members gathered along EDSA Avenue in Caloocan City as early as 5 a.m. before marching to Monumento.

Moody Floranda, Piston president, said he believes the PUV modernization program would remove all jeepneys from the road.

While some of the drivers made a few rounds before taking part in the strike, others did not, saying the strike was for their own good because they could not afford the high price of a modern jeepney that could cost about P2.5 million.

Manibela’s Valbuena said his group and Piston had earlier planned to go on strike, but the latter had its own internal schedule.

Manibela had launched its own transport strike in October, but it fizzled when other major groups did not join it.

Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) chairman Teofilo Guadiz III said public transportation was normal in most parts of Metro Manila on Monday.

A few areas that were slightly affected by the transport strike were Novaliches and a portion of Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, and Pasig City, he said, but the deployment of government-owned vehicles accommodated the affected commuters.

The LTFRB said it is still open to discussing the jeepney operators’ request to extend the validity of their franchise to five years, as long as they consolidate into a cooperative to comply with the PUV modernization program.

In a media briefing, Guadiz said the agency would discuss with members of Piston their concerns about the program, such as consolidation, franchise validity, and compliance with requirements.

“They have one-year provisional authority but the moment they join the modernization program we can give them the five years they are asking for,” Guadiz said.

PUV operators should consolidate into a cooperative by Dec. 31, 2023, as this will be a requirement for vehicle registration next year.

“We will look into areas that we can agree on and fix. My office is open to their requests, we just have to clarify which ones need a longer time,” Guadiz said.

Guadiz said about 60 percent of PUVs have already complied with the program’s consolidation policy.

“We expect at least 85 to 90 percent until Dec. 31 since we have already simplified the process of organizing a cooperative,” he said.

Guadiz said the preliminary step toward modernization is forming a cooperative, clarifying that operators may choose not to buy a new unit, as long as their jeepneys are still working and pass the Land Transportation Office standards.

“From the time they consolidate or form a cooperative, they can still operate until the LTO tells them that their vehicle is no longer allowed,” he said.

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chairman Romando Artes said there was no disruption so far due to the transport strike.

“We can categorically say that public transportation was not paralyzed.

He said the MMDA had readied 686 service vehicles to give rides to stranded commuters, but as of noon, the agency had dispatched only 74 vehicles to serve 1,815 commuters.

While he downplayed the impact of the first day of the transport strike, Artes said the MMDA would continue to monitor the situation until Nov. 22.

“We are ready for the three-day strike, and we will respond depending on the situation,” he said.

Both the national and local government units have deployed vehicles and free rides to augment transportation in areas affected by the strike.

Earlier, Guadiz said the modernization program’s goal is not to phase out traditional jeepneys but to modernize the transportation system and upgrade units to comply with environmental and safety standards.

In contrast to government claims, Piston officials said the first day of the group’s strike was a success, saying it reached 85 percent paralysis on major routes in Metro Manila.

Jeepney drivers from the cities of Pasig, Taguig, and Makati held demonstrations to oppose the PUV modernization program. At Monumento Circle, jeep drivers also staged a protest.

The coalition said that aside from Metro Manila, there were also protest rallies in Southern Tagalog, Bicol, Western Visayas, and Central Visayas regions.

The PUV modernization program started in 2017 aiming to replace jeepneys with vehicles with at least a Euro 4-compliant engine to reduce pollution. The government originally set a June 30, 2023 deadline, but this was extended to the end of the year after the announcement of a transport strike in March.

In other developments:

* Rep. Wilbert T. Lee of the AGRI party-list group filed a resolution urging the LTFRB, the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines to streamline requirements and simplify the process of obtaining franchises and financing for jeepney drivers and operators.

* Transport Secretary Jaime Bautista said the agency’s lines of communication are always open to transport groups who may have misconceptions about the PUV modernization program. He also urged them to iron out issues through “honest communication.”

* Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte joined the MMDA in monitoring the first day of the transport strike on Monday. Duterte oversaw the agency’s Communications and Command Center, which serves as the inter-agency monitoring center for the transport strike. The Office of the Vice President has deployed its buses to augment and serve as rescue vehicles for affected commuters. Duterte also said classes will not be canceled during a transport strike, except in cases where local government units declare such cancellations, which the MMDA does not recommend.

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