MANILA – As the PISTON transport group ended a two-day strike to protest the government’s ambitious program to modernize public utility vehicles, President Duterte on Tuesday told the sector to heed calls to turn in their old units and acquire new, environment-friendly ones, giving a deadline of end-2017 for such.
“Next year I do not want to see any single PUJ,” said Duterte as he addressed troops in Marawi City after declaring the Islamic city’s “liberation” from the siege by outlaws aligned with the international terrorist Islamic State.
“January 1 pag hindi ninyo na-modernize uan, umalis kayo. Mahirap kayo? P******a magtiis kayo sa hirap at gutom. Wala akong pakialam (If you have NOT modernized yet come January 1, get out. You say you’re poor to be doing this? Live with the hardship, go hungry. I don’t care.),” Duterte said tersely.
President Duterte’s remarks signaled solid backing of the Department of Transportation’s program to have the old jeepneys either rehabilitated or phased out completely.
At one point, he threatened to personally give orders to pull out of the roads any old and decrepit PUJs he would see next year.
This is the first time Duterte spoke publicly about the PUV modernization, which the Department of Transportation (DOTr) has adopted as a major initiative, and is widely supported by business and environmental groups.
Several automotive manufacturers have signed up for the program, which will put Euro-4 compliant PUVs on the roads, and is touted to provide passengers with comfortable (air conditioned, with some units using automated payment through Beep cards) and safe modes for commuting.
The transport groups PISTON and the Not to Jeepney Phase Out Coalition, however, have insisted the financials of the modernization program are flawed, and would leave small operators in debt – with average loans per modern PUV of P1.2 to P1.6 million) – and imperil the livelihoods of the public utility drivers.
They said fielding modern vehicles would also mean fare hikes, but the leaders of five other transport groups that did not join PISTON’s protest said any associated fare hike would be reasonable, and people are expected to eventually adjust to paying a little bit more for progress.
The two-day strike called Monday and Tuesday (October 16 and 17) was supposed to be the biggest protest against the program, but the impact was blunted by Malacañang’s suspension of classes in all levels and work in government offices.