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Editorial

Complex and delicate matter

/ 05:11 AM December 05, 2017

Cooler heads appeared to have prevailed in the decision by the transport group Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (Piston) to cancel its planned nationwide strike yesterday and today in opposition to the government’s announced phaseout of jeepneys. The drivers have instead accepted the invitation by Sen. Grace Poe to air their concerns at a Senate hearing that will be called on Dec. 7 to discuss the jeepney modernization program.

It’s lamentable that it would take the threat of thousands of jeepney drivers again taking to the streets for two days and paralyzing transport for an untold number of commuters in Metro Manila and beyond for national leaders to begin taking their complaints more seriously. On social media, jeepney drivers and those on their side have borne the brunt of ridicule and dismissal by sectors of the public who think their refusal to go along with the administration’s proposed jeepney modernization program is simply clinging to a discredited past.

It’s way past time for the old, inefficient, pollution-contributing “King of the Road” to be retired from the metro’s major streets, they say; opposing that move is tantamount to opposing progress and change.

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It would be difficult to find anyone who doesn’t want mass public transport to modernize and serve commuters with greater efficiency and comfort—but surely there must be a less drastic, incendiary way to do it than with the heated words that have so far attended the issue, unfortunately stoked right from the top by President Duterte’s profanity-laced tirade against Piston in October. Setting what seemed to be an arbitrary deadline of January 2018 for drivers to supposedly convert to new jeepneys, Mr. Duterte uttered these startling lines: “Mahirap kayo? P*tangina. Magtiis kayo sa hirap at gutom, wala akong pakialam (So you’re poor? Son of a b*tch. Stay hungry and poor, I don’t care).”

Belligerent pronouncements serve to waylay the chances for a sober, mutually satisfactory look at this thorny issue. The question of how to overhaul the antiquated jeepney system has, in fact, flummoxed successive administrations, testifying to the complexity and delicate nature of this matter.

For one, the sector of the population dependent on jeepneys for their livelihood is still considerable.

For another, the vehicle remains the dominant mode of transport nearly everywhere in the country, especially in Metro Manila’s thoroughfares — and how, indeed, to change something en masse that would at least cushion the impact on commuters and the jeepney sector alike?

The Duterte administration’s answer is the public utility vehicle modernization program, which the Department of Transportation says will provide more commuter- and environment-friendly vehicles, hand in hand with easy financing for drivers and operators to avail themselves of the new units.

Tim Orbos, the transport undersecretary for roads, said that, according to government studies, drivers can expect to save “43 percent from fuel spending” with their more
fuel-efficient vehicles.

The cost of the new jeeps? Up to P1.6 million each. And that’s what drivers are more than anxious about — whether to go into a seven-year bank debt to replace their old vehicle with a new one as mandated by the program, even with the P80,000 subsidy that the DOTr and its partner – banks are promising to extend as equity.

Jeepney drivers and their families remain among the country’s most hard-up citizens; is their concern at what seems to be an enormous burden imposed on them not valid enough to at least invite greater scrutiny of the DOTr program before it is rolled out?

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The viability of this project will rest not solely on political will or presidential harangue, but also, and more crucially, on cooperation from the affected sector. Has enough been done to convince those at the frontline that it will be worth it for them?

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TAGS: Inquirer editorial, Piston, transport strike
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