THE Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) have been busy doing some spinning. They keep insisting–complete with infographics–that the jeepney phase-out is actually a modernization plan that will make these public transport vehicles safer for the public and kinder to the environment. After Monday’s transport strike, they’ve insisted that it wasn’t nationwide at all, belittling its effect on the commuting public, towards asserting that the strike was no problem at all.
Which behooves the question: if it was no problem at all, why is the LTFRB even threatening suspension of jeepney franchises that joined in the strike?
Sometimes the magnitude of the protest is measured by the kind of reaction it generates from government agencies and the powers-that-be. And in the case of the Monday strike vis-a-vis the damage control and spin that LTFRB and DOTr are doing, it’s pretty clear it was far larger than they care to admit.
The LTFRB went so far as to assert that the protest coalition has been spreading wrong information about their planned “modernization.” LTFRB spokesperson lawyer Aileen Lizada said: “Do not believe leaders who say that (jeepneys) will be totally taken out of the road. That is not true. We do not have a phase-out for jeepneys.” She added that “the PUJ modernization program only seeks to ‘level up the type of jeepneys we have on the road’” (Manila Bulletin, February 25).
They’ve also insisted that whatever LTFRB/DOTr document the No To Jeepney Phaseout Coalition has as far as the planned modernization is concerned is “bogus” (Inquirer.net, February 28).
And yet one wonders: for an office that insists protesters are spreading wrong information, for an office that demands we see things their way about making jeepneys safer, about the urgent need to “modernize” public transport by “leveling up” the jeepneys, one wonders why there is no official document from the DOTr or the LTFRB about this modernization plan.
You deny that the department order on the phase-out of jeeps is real; but you don’t release the “real” document, which should be the most urgent task at hand. Why is that?
In the same breath: you insist that this is not a jeepney phase-out, but you have no proof to show that there will be jeeps currently plying our roads that will be kept on those roads after this “modernization” plan is implemented. Again: why is that?
In fact, the LTFRB-DOTr’s refusal to release information is worse than any other kind of misinformation they claim is being used against them. A transparent government will be the first to release official documents, given that the people have the right to know about orders and policies that will affect their lives. This Duterte government, for all its claims to freedom of information has been the worst at releasing information.
And really: why is that?
Contrary to the picture that government agencies paint about this phase-out being a painless process of shifting from one kind of jeepney to another, this is a shift to more expensive jeepneys, the effect of which will not only be multifarious but also generally negative to drivers, small operators, and the riding public.
Sure, you can claim to be climate change-compliant and environmental. But at what cost? Recently, the number that’s been released is at least P350,000 per jeepney, P7 million per franchise, which will be required to have at least 20 jeepneys (Kabataan Partylist, February 27).
That price tag in itself tells us that the LTFRB-DOTr, which represents a government that is purportedly pro-people, has no idea that a 12-hour shift for a jeepney driver in Bicol, for example, will result in only P400 to P500 in earnings (Inquirer.net, February 28). Pray tell, how exactly do they expect jeepney drivers to pay back a debt in the hundreds of thousands of pesos?
Too: what kind of government is this that will imagine that forcing 650,000 jeepney drivers and 250,000 small jeepney operators to go into debt, is acceptable, not to mention kind and compassionate? Ultimately, this is a government policy that will leave our drivers and operators with no choice but to go into debt, in the name of acquiring jeepneys from businesses that will earn millions on a government contract.
Because that’s 300,000 jeeps in the country, multiplied by P350,000 each. Do the math, ask yourself who stands to earn given this jeepney phase-out.
It doesn’t take a lot to realize that in fact this “modernization” plan will only really put our jeeps in the hands of big investors who can afford the P7-million price tag on a jeepney franchise. Because that is not, cannot be, the small jeepney operator that exists at this point. And let’s say some of those operators are willing to go into debt—how long can they sustain this business of jeepneys? They will have a monthly debt to pay, discontented drivers to care for.
The more possible scenario is that big investors will take control of jeepney operations, which will not only mean a shift in the role our drivers play in public transport—from stakeholders to mere employees probably earning less than minimum wage on a contractual basis—it will also mean shifting the burden of paying back the P7-million cost of the franchise to the jeepney rider. This is what big business does.
Sure, these “new” jeeps will have GPS and WiFi, but imagine the price we’re going to pay as riders, and imagine the repercussions on the lives of our jeepney drivers and operators and their families.
Does this government care? Not if you’re listening to LTFRB-DOTr, from which no apologies are in sight.
Meanwhile, George San Mateo of PISTON apologized to commuters for the inconvenience the strike would cause (CNN Philippines, February 27).
Tells you who actually cares about the people—drivers, operators, commuters, all.