Whether we put the issue of a jeepney phaseout up front in the government’s transport modernization program or not, the modernization of public transport all over the archipelago is a desirable policy whose time has truly come and should not wait.
The reform should be enthusiastically supported by the people, by local governments and all our social institutions, because all stand to benefit from the envisioned change.
It is imperative to emphasize this point because affected transport groups such as drivers and public utility operators have decided to combine with leftwing groups to stage a two-day nationwide transport strike (Monday and Tuesday) that is designed to paralyze transport services, in a vain effort to delay or derail the program.
The Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston) is leading the strike, citing the jeepney phaseout plan as its main reason. Among the groups supporting this week’s nationwide transport strike are Kadamay, Migrante, League of Filipino Students, and Kilusang Mayo Uno.
Because of the strike, the Palace has suspended work in government offices and classes in all levels of public and private schools nationwide on Monday, Oct. 16, at the start of a two-day transport yesterday. Tuesday, Oct. 17, was not included in the suspension order.
In the face of this protest action, the government should stand its ground and resolutely proceed with the modernization program. It should ensure as the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has done, that the strike does not paralyze the transport sector.
The modernization of our transport sector, just like the aggressive modernization of the country’s infrastructure, is a reform that has been delayed for decades, and should have started long ago. Had reform commenced under previous administrations, we would be witnessing today modern infrastructure and transport facilities servicing our population of more than 104 million.
What was missing essentially was political will—the will of a president with a clear vision and a clear agenda of what he wanted to accomplish during his term.
With President Duterte, we now have a leader who is determined to supply the will. He has the support of a competent Cabinet. And there is a credible plan for the generation of funds that will meet the costs of this all-important modernization.
There may be understandable sentimentality over the prospective demise of the jeepney as a vehicle for transport in the country. But the jeepney, let us face it, is now an anachronism, more fit for the museum than for the road. We have entered a time when the old answers and the old technologies are no longer adequate to fill the needs of our growing population and dynamic economy. We, the people, must adjust to the times, not the other way around.
There are ways for government and planners to ameliorate the pain of those whose work and occupations will be affected. There are financing schemes that can be implemented to help operators who must face the costs of acquiring more modern vehicles. All these should be considered and implemented to the extent that government can afford them.
What must be vigorously rejected are the disruptive actions of those who hope to stop the modernization program. It is disappointing to see the Left once again in opposition to reform. It would have been more cheering to see them standing for a vital and needed reform for a change. That would have been more fitting for a group which styles itself as the progressive sector of society.