Jeepney operators strike back | Inquirer Opinion
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Jeepney operators strike back

An estimated 40,000 traditional jeepneys and UV express vehicles in Metro Manila will join a weeklong strike next week, as a response to the mandates being enforced by the government’s public utility vehicle modernization program. The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board issued Memorandum Circular No. 2023-013, mandating the end of individual franchises for traditional jeepneys by June 30. Traditional jeepney operators are being required to join cooperatives or corporations that will acquire at least 15 modern public utility vehicles (PUVs), according to the Department of Transportation’s Order No. 2017-011 issued back in 2017. Approved modern PUVs—equipped with Euro 4 or electrically powered engines—are expected to cost around P2.4 million to P2.8 million. Modern PUVs are manufactured by foreign companies such as Isuzu, Fuso, and Hyundai.


The more I read about what is being asked of our traditional jeepney operators, the more I fully understand why they are fighting back. The PUV modernization program completely ignores the culture and community around the traditional Filipino jeepney. It fails to understand why jeepneys have lasted as long they have and therefore carelessly has signed off on its extinction. It is not mere nostalgia that they are fighting for; they are fighting to preserve their right to own their own business and have autonomy over how to provide for their families.

Forcing individual jeepney operators to be sucked into a bigger corporation deprives them of being their own boss and deliverers of their own fate. The mandates raise the capital bar by a significant degree in a way that completely replaces the players in the PUV industry. With small operators being banned from participating and foreign manufacturers gobbling up certifications for their modernized PUVs, it is not modernization that is happening but a hostile takeover of the jeepney industry.


Modesto Floranda, national president of the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operators Nationwide, said that requiring operators to consolidate their individual franchises under a cooperative was “wrong, deceitful, and coercive.” The minimum requirement for a franchise after June 30 is the financial capacity to afford 15-20 modernized vehicles prices at around P2 million each. That, in effect, freezes out most jeepney operators on the ground. They are being coerced to surrender their business independence to rich capitalists who are already waiting in the wings to take over. Just take a quick look at the newly formed operators that have met this new requirement and you’ll see that they are no longer your friendly neighborhood jeepney operator, but instead familiar faces that have already dominated other industries.

The jeepney industry has always been a fiercely local and independent one. Sarao Motors, one of the first jeepney makers in the country, has been around since 1953. Their jeepney was exhibited at the 1964 New York World’s Fair as a symbol for the Philippines. They even created the custom-built, owner-type jeep ridden by Pope John Paul II during his visit in 1981. The history of the industry is peppered with stories of families saving up for their first jeepney. It is a rough trade—blood, sweat, and tears are required to transform their hard work on the road into food at the family table. Culturally, the jeepney is known for its colorful and varied design, each operator making the jeepney truly their own. We see portraits of their loved ones as a reminder that behind each vehicle is a Filipino family. They proudly paint on words that inspire them and motivate them to keep going. Jeepney operators take great pains to rise above the chaotic mass on the streets and make sure that they were seen. The modernization program as it stands strips the jeepney of their individuality and washes away their stories.

There is a way to modernize that supports the industry instead of destroying it. The local jeepney manufacturing industry should have been supported to allow them to improve their designs toward cleaner engines. We should have recognized their homegrown ingenuity and used that for modernization rather than replacing them with imports. Government should have designed more equitable swaps and incentives to motivate jeepney operators to upgrade to cleaner engines, instead of merely offering lopsided loans that will ensure that they will be in debt forever. Instead of raising the cost of entry for jeepney operators, we should have increased their access to cleaner and greener options.


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