STRIKE OVER NOTHING? | Paucity of details on transport modernization dismays lawmakers

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Some jeepneys continued to ply their routes on Monday (Oct. 16), the start of a two-day transport strike called against the PUV modernization scheme. NEWS5 IMAGE GRAB

MANILA, Philippines – Did the transport groups overreact to the jeepney modernization that, it turns out, is still on the drawing board? Or, did transport officials oversell a product the finer details of which that they were still crafting?

At a congressional hearing Thursday, October 19, lawmakers pressed transportation officials for details of the administration’s vaunted modernization program that triggered this week’s two-day national strike, but did not get much.

Worse, transport regulators characterized President Rodrigo Duterte’s ultimatum to jeepney drivers and operators to get their old vehicles off the roads by 2018 as an apparent hyperbole, meant to drive home the urgency of a plan that, they conceded, cannot be rolled out under the presidential timeline.

Reacting as lawmakers failed to extract fleshier details of the plan from their resource persons, Caloocan Representative Edgar Erice was prompted to remark, “We agree with modernization, the problem is wala pa kayong produkto, binebenta nyo na [you don’t have a final product yet, but you were already selling it].”

“Parang isang model ng celfone, hindi pa nagagawa pero binebenta na natin [Like a cellphone model that’s not yet been finished but is already being sold],” he added.

Erice said talk about the phaseout of the old jeepneys and their replacement with the environment-friendly Euro 4-compliant engines appears to have “fanned the flames” that triggered the two-day nationwide jeepney strike last October 16 and 17.

He said the issue not only impacts the livelihood of thousands of Filipinos, but also strikes a sentimental and historical chord because jeepneys are part of the Filipino identity.

Financing, manufacturing, routes

Before Erice’s turn, several lawmakers also asked the officials of the Land Transportation Office and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) about the following: timeline of the modernization program; financing scheme for drivers and operators; manufacturers of the new jeepney model; planned routes.

LTFRB chairperson Martin Delgra III, however, could only stress the importance of getting the modernization plan on the road.

‘Pag hindi inumpisahan [If we don’t start it], we will lose the urgency. The problem is not as simple as making a new (jeepney) model. The issue has a wide national impact and it’s very dynamic,” Delgra said.

Explaining the earlier statement of President Rodrigo Duterte that he wants the old jeepneys out by January 1, 2018, Delgra said the date “is an expression of urgency,” adding that this meant that transportation officials should really push the program.

Kabayan party-list Rep. Ron Salo said despite the talks about modernization, “it seems we are still in the dark” about the details.”

Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe said the LTO and the LTFRB could not even give a timeline for the implementation of the jeepney phaseout.

Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Ty Pimentel added that the apprehension about the program partly comes from the lack of plan.

New model unfit for rough rural terrain

For example, he said the proposed jeepney model is only for the urban streets and not for the rough terrain in some provinces.

Bulacan Rep. Gavini Pancho and Kabayan Rep. Harry Roque questioned the manufacturers of the new vehicle, with Roque proposing to call them in the next hearing.

Party-list Reps. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna, France Castro of ACT Teachers and Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas of Gabriela said the modernization plan should be based on scientific studies and should be a product of consultation from among the transport sector.

Department of Transportation Assistant Secretary Mark De Leon said a study is being conducted on the route rationalization of vehicles, which will include the inventory of public and private vehicles plying various routes. The report will be ready by next month.

Delgra said they plan to pilot test three routes — Rizal to Manila, Makati and Pateros — before the end of the year.

“The route program is not yet ready, yet we already want to punish our drivers; even the financing scheme is not yet clear,” Zarate said.

“What is the basis of modernization, hindi pa tapos ang [you’ve not yet finished the] study?” Castro asked aloud. END