Edna Bustamante, 68, a breast cancer survivor who views her jeepneys like her lifeline. She has never taken part in any drivers’ or operators’ protest actions before, but now, for the first time, she started doing so. She joined the newly-formed coalition of drivers, operators and commuters against jeepney phase out, calling themselves simply, No To Jeepney Phaseout Coalition.
On Monday, December 14, she took part in a protest action spearheaded by the coalition, a protest caravan to Malacañang.
The threat that roused her is the imminent implementation of a Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) order to phaseout jeepneys by refusing to give it a “Certificate of Confirmation” in legally plying its route. To be affected are jeepneys with machine and chassis that had been registered with the Land Transportation Office (LTO) for the past 15 years.
The government-dictated phase out cum modernization program, according to the protesters, would result in the further emasculation of local operators and manufacturers, joblessness for current jeepney drivers, the takeover of big corporations and consequently, higher fares.
The government’s main reason for the abrupt phaseout is pollution. But the coalition said the Aquino government’s approval of more coal-fired power plants and environmentally destructive practices such as deforestation for large-scale mining and plantations are the real culprits in pollution. They said jeepneys contribute a mere 2 percent in pollution.
Like other jeepney operators, Bustamante said the government should clean up its emission test system.
“Our jeeps don’t belch smoke once overhauled – but the LTO’s emission test is not properly cleaned, thus unfairly flunking some public utility jeepneys even when they are properly conditioned,” Bustamante explained.
Bustamante and other operators said they are not against the supposed phaseout goal to modernize jeepneys. “We agree to modernization, but why is the government restricting us from getting services from other entities?” she asked.
The government through the DOTC order wants operators to replace their jeepneys with its self-defined modern, clean and safe vehicles – a unilateral assessment which the No To Jeepney Phaseout Coalition questions and opposes.
“Ang isinusulong nilang modernisasyon, di namin malunok,” (We can’t swallow the ‘type of ‘modernization’ they’re pushing), said Bustamante.
In addition, the DOTC wants every public utility jeepney beginning January 2016 to have a GPS; to participate in automated fare/ticket collection; and enter into a fleet management program under a private corporation.
As such, ‘modernization’ based on the Aquino government’s DOTC order means forcibly injecting a bigger, corporate-owned jeepney public transport system, in the process crushing or edging out the small-scale to medium-scale entrepreneurship of present jeepney operators.
Current jeepney operators interviewed by Bulatlat.com (whether owning just one or two to 15 jeepney units) said they could not afford the new government-approved jeepney. As Bustamante quipped, “maski lahat ng santo luhuran ko, hindi ko maaabot iyon.” (Even if I knelt before all the saints, I couldn’t afford their price.)
Jeepney operator Jobert Carandang, 55, leader of PISTON-Capiz chapter, and Florencia Francisco, operator of 12 jeepneys in Eastern Rizal marked Lady Leng in front and “maldita” in the rear, both said it is inconceivable that they could ever afford the new jeep being peddled by the government.
“The so-called Euro-compliant jeepneys cost from P1.3 to P1.5 million each, they said.
In addition, the operators said, the government’s modernization program is biased against local manufacturers.
If or when jeepneys fall under large corporation’s control, George San Mateo, chairperson of Piston, said it would result in the “massacre of jobs “ of drivers and operators.
San Mateo also warned of higher fares once big corporations take over control of the public utility fleets. Citing the case of recently privatized LRT, and the public-private partnership in MRT, he warned that jeepney-like transport under large, private corporations will then be run more for profit than public service.
“Yes, we are also for modernization. We are so for modernization,” Bustamante stressed.
“But, we should modernize not according to such dictates (by the DOTC),” she said.
She started with one jeepney in 1985. Now, she have five. When she fought breast cancer 17 years ago, she said, her jeepneys helped to sustain her. Like other operators, she is intent on taking good care of her jeepneys, and she desires its modernization, too. “Who wouldn’t want that?” she asked.
“But to whoever I want to bring the jeepneys for repair and conditioning, to wherever I want to buy its spare parts – those are things the government shouldn’t dictate,” she said.
“Seventeen years ago I survived breast cancer and carnapping. But this phase out, this will kill me,” she said, explaining why she gathered some inner strength to participate in protests.