THE jeepney strike that kicked off this week drove home the point that needed to be made about the Department of Transportation’s (DOTr) proposed jeepney modernization program.
First, that in fact jeepneys are not the main cause of our traffic crisis, because despite the fact that there were barely any jeeps on the roads, traffic was still terrible.
Second, that in fact this proposed modernization program will not only disenfranchise jeepney drivers and operators, it will also ultimately affect the commuting public. On the day of the strike, commuters were stranded no matter the number of organizations that did not join the strike, and no matter the number of transport units that the LGUs and government agencies provided.
Makes you wonder: if this shift to new jeeps happens, will there be no lull in operations? Does this mean that there is actually one huge business already making these jeeps, ready to receive its millions from government subsidies, bank loans, and jeepney operators who can afford the P7 million pesos required to get a new modern jeepney franchise?
Whose business is this, and how did it get such a great deal with the DOTr?
We’re talking 400,000 jeeps to be bought at the price of at least P1 million each.
Imagine earning that much out of one huge government deal. It boggles the mind.
Call it a phase-out
The night before Monday’s rally, after posting a Facebook status on how the jeepney phase-out stands to affect 650,000 drivers, I was told that some government official has pointed out that the use of the term “phase-out” is wrong and misleading.
Apparently, this phase-out is being spun by saying that in fact it is only going to affect jeepneys that are 15 years old and older. So, we are being told that technically, this is not a phase-out.
Except that most, if not all, jeepneys are actually 15 years old and above. Wouldn’t that mean, in fact, that this is a complete phase-out?
The DOTr insists: this is modernization, not a phase-out (Facebook page, February 6).
On the contrary: it is a modernization program that will phase out the jeepney as we know it. Including, but not limited to, the cost of fares.
After all, if one new modern jeep will cost P1 million, the new owners/operators will want to get a return on investment, yes? Imagine how high the fares will be so that they might earn a profit.
At what cost?
I believe in the basis for the jeepney modernization program. Yes, there is a need to make our jeeps safer. And sure, let’s make it more environmentally friendly while we’re at it.
But I do not believe that safer, environmentally friendly jeeps should mean requiring jeepney owners to put up at least P1 million for a new jeep.
Neither can you make me believe that in order to “modernize” the jeep as public transport, that an operator must spend P7 million to get a franchise, or that any operator should be required to have a fleet of 20 units by 2018, or 40 units by 2019 (inquirer.net, February 6).
The financial requirements of this modernization program will be difficult to fulfill for a majority of jeepney drivers and operators, if at all. And any response that says the sector will be given bank loans with low interest rates just misses the point.
What the DOTr is saying is that they will force the jeepney sector to shift to jeeps they cannot afford, by telling them to go into debt just to continue serving the commuting public.
No low interest rate will erase the fact that government is forcing the jeepney drivers and operators to incur such large debts, in the name of “compliance.”
And who’s going to earn from this shift to new jeeps? The lack of transparency makes this whole enterprise even more suspicious.
Rehabilitation not modernization
There is absolutely no reason to go through the modernization process in one fell swoop, especially when it will affect a majority of jeepney drivers and small operators, especially when it involves such huge amounts of money.
DOTr will make us believe that we – the jeepney sector and commuting public – stand to gain. But we will only gain if we see that jeeps are safer, drivers do not lose their jobs, and we do not suffer the burden of higher fares.
There has to be a kinder process, a more compassionate way of making the jeep safer and more environmentally friendly, without having to phase out all the jeeps at this point.
For example, unlike other public utility vehicles, jeeps are not created in factories, but are assembled in the good ol’ Filipino talyer (PinoyWeekly, November 2016). Is it not possible to change the jeepney as we know it by merely shifting to better, more environmentally kind parts? Is it not possible to find or create jeepney parts that will make it safer as well?
According to George San Mateo of PISTON, “Kung tutuusin, sa sinasabi nilang roadworthiness at environment concerns, puwedeng puwede ang rehabilitation imbes [na]palitan ng bago ang mga dyip. Basta may government subsidy.” (Actually, rehabilitation instead of replacement can already address the issues of roadworthiness and the environment, so long as there is government subsidy.)
Here, even government will benefit, as it will not have to put up subsidies and assistance in the billions, and instead will work towards assisting jeepney drivers and operators on becoming compliant, at lesser cost.
Without the P1-million per jeep price tag, it will also mean being able to keep the price of jeepney fares down.
Alas, the President’s men at DOTr are not thinking beyond the programs of the previous government. And if this jeepney modernization program pushes through, it will prove only one thing: that the Liberal Party’s anti-people policies are alive and kicking within Duterte’s government.
How ironic is that.