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Protests fizzle out on transport strike day 1

As a nationwide transport strike got underway on Monday to protest the government’s program to modernize public utility vehicles (PUVs), protesters claimed they were able to paralyze some routes in Metro Manila, even as the Palace and its agencies downplayed their impact across the country.

STRIKE SCENES. Acting MMDA Chairman Romando S. Artes (above) monitors the situation across Metro Manila during the first day of the nationwide transport strike, which saw pocket actions in Quezon City, Manila, and Valenzuela (below photos). Manny Palmero, Norman Cruz, Boy Bautista

Hundreds of commuters still had to wait longer in line for fewer jeepneys, as the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON) reported that by midmorning, no jeepneys and UV Express services were plying routes from Malabon and Caloocan in the north to Las Pinas in the south, with passengers in Manila, Pasig, Pasay, Rizal, Cavite, and Laguna affected.

“The success of the strike is not measured on the extent of the mobilization, but the legitimate issue that the drivers and operators are presenting,” PISTON president Mody Floranda told reporters as their members joined drivers and operators from the group Manibela, counting around 100,000 nationwide.

On its Facebook page, Manibela said in Filipino: “We will push through with the second day of our strike today (Tuesday)! We feel that will be our last day (to protest) as they will be forced to talk to us, and we will win our fight (against PUV modernization). No to phaseout!”

But the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) said the drivers and operators failed to paralyze the transport system in the National Capital Region during the first day of their week-long protest against the phaseout of traditional jeepneys.

MMDA Chairman Romando Artes said the protest had a minimal effect on the commuters on Monday. He attributed this to the government’s contingency measures in place to counter the effects of the strike.

The Land Transportation Franchise and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) also said the transport strike affected only 10 percent of the routes in Metro Manila.

In a press briefing at the LTFRB office in East Avenue, Quezon City, LTFRB Technical Division chief Joel Bolano said rescue buses and Libreng Sakay vehicles provided by different government agencies have been deployed in areas affected by the transport strike.

Another region with a similar situation to NCR is Region 4A, which was moderately affected by the transport strike.

In total, he said about 5 percent of transport routes nationwide have been affected by the strike.

“The President, through the Office of the Executive Secretary, organized this Inter-Agency Monitoring Team in response to the transport strike. Because of the unified efforts of concerned agencies, we were able to prepare and address the needs of the riding public,” said Artes, during a press briefing held in MMDA headquarters on Monday afternoon.

“Ahead of the transport strike, assets were pre-positioned, contingency plans were in place, and routes that would be affected by the strike were identified,” Artes said.

MMDA General Manager Undersecretary Procopio Lipana, head of the Inter-Agency Task Force Monitoring Team Secretariat, said only 88 of the 1,680 vehicles from the national government and Metro Manila local government units were used to transport affected commuters.

“Only 5 percent of our assets have been utilized and catered to 3,584 passengers,” said Lipana.

Police Col. Roman Arugay, Operations Officer of the Philippine National Police-National Capital Region Police Office, said the first day of the transport strike was peaceful.

“No major untoward incidents were reported except for minor ones, such as PUV drivers who held demonstrations, protesters who obstructed streets, and coerced PUV drivers to join the protest. No injuries or harm occurred. No arrest has been made,” Arugay said.

Libreng Sakay (free ride) buses were quickly dispatched to areas in Metro Manila where passengers had been reported as stranded.

The MMDA’s expanded number coding scheme will also be in effect starting March 7, said Artes, noting that moderate traffic was experienced by motorists passing major roads on Monday.

Artes assured the riding public of available passenger vehicles for the duration of the transport strike.

Transportation Undersecretary Mark Steven Pastor said the Transportation department is open to a dialogue with the striking groups.

“We want to hear the concerns of the transport groups and what we can do about it. Let us reiterate that there will be no phaseout of jeepney units,” he said.

Lawyer Jocelyn Tataro, of the LTFRB, said they will continuously monitor the situation for any possible disturbances as well as aid the riding public.

The team also includes the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Department of National Defense, the Inter-Agency Council for Traffic, the Land Transport Franchising and Metro Manila local government units (LGUs).

During the briefing, LTFRB chairperson Teofilo Guadiz III appealed to these transport groups to end their protest as the government is willing to listen and address their concerns through dialogue and consultation.

He announced the extension of the deadline for PUV consolidation and modernization from June 30 to Dec. 31 and will be made official through a memorandum circular that will be released next week.

To date, he said he has already spoken with various transport groups—including MANIBELA, LABAN TNVS, and PISTON, which staged the transport strike.

He said LTFRB staff will personally visit transport cooperatives to further explain the intricacies of the PUV modernization program.

The LTFRB will also rationalize the routes of PUVs to ensure their profitability, as well as assist them in applying for loans from the Land Bank of the Philippines, the Development Bank of the Philippines, and other financing institutions.

He also clarified that under the modernization program, there will be different types of PUVs aside from the usual white buses and that traditional jeepneys can still operate as long as they comply with safety and environmental standards.

The Palace also said only a handful of routes were affected as the government provided free rides to commuters affected by the strike.

The EDSA Busway Carousel was not affected by any transport strike activity, with operations running smoothly with a low passenger volume observed at all stations, it said.

It added that the government will continue to assist commuters with free rides.

In Region 4-A (Calabarzon), authorities reported around 30 stranded passengers at the SM-Crossing Calamba Grand Terminal in Laguna at around 6 a.m.

However, jeepneys plying the Calamba-Biñan route and modern jeeps plying the Calamba-Pacita Complex route are in normal operation.

Daily commuters between Novaliches, Quezon City, and Valenzuela City

and vice versa have not been affected by the transport strike, according to reports.

At least 84 air-conditioned mini-buses or modern jeepneys belonging to two transport cooperatives continue to operate along the nine-kilometer Gen. Luis St. (formerly Novaliches-Polo Road) route from the former Novaliches town proper to MacArthur Highway in Malinta, Valenzuela City.

Speaker Martin G. Romualdez on Monday said the House of Representatives and Malacañang have joined hands to provide 100 buses to help Metro Manila commuters affected by the week-long strike launched by transport groups opposing the government’s jeepney modernization program.

“Through the joint effort of the House of Representatives and Malacañang, we have fielded 100 buses to augment the number of vehicles provided by local governments and other government agencies that would provide free rides to affected commuters,” Romualdez said.

The Liga ng Transportasyon at Operators sa Pilipinas (LTOP) said the ongoing transport strike does not enjoy the popular support of jeepney and bus sector organizations and expressed hope that the protest action will eventually fizzle out short of its week-long target.

LTOP national president Orlando Marquez said as of Monday noon, the strike was most evident in parts of Metro Manila but failed to make an impact in many provinces.

He said large transport groups, even the more militant ones, have not expressed support for the transport strike.

Marquez said organizations such as the Alliance of Concerned Transport Organizations (ACTO), Alliance of Transport Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines (ALTODAP), Federation of Jeepney Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines (FEJODAP), Stop & Go and UV Express, as well as several bus operators’ groups, have also expressed unwillingness to take part in efforts to paralyze transportation.

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