The accelerated pace of the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) has provoked many jeepney drivers and operators in Laguna to go up in arms. For them, the push for the phaseout of traditional jeepneys will trigger exactly the kind of transport crisis the government wants to avoid.
We’re not ready yet.
That was the stand of many jeepney drivers and commuters alike in Laguna province, as the national government appears to have accelerated the pace of the controversial Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP).
With the looming phaseout of traditional jeepneys by June 30 (later extended to December 31 after an outcry from transport groups), jeepney drivers in the province say the government’s push for modern PUVs will not only cause them to lose their livelihood but also trigger exactly the kind of transport crisis the government claims it is solving through the PUVMP.
This week, transport groups are expected to hold a nationwide transport strike from March 6 to 12 to protest the government’s move to phase out traditional jeepneys in favor of modern PUVs.
These groups, which included Manibela, Laban TNVS and PISTON, have decried the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board's (LTFRB) requirement for drivers and operators to join cooperatives and corporations as a requirement for the renewal of their franchises.
Mar Valbuena, chairman of Manibela, said jeepney drivers and operators have to struggle with ballooning fuel prices and the costs of organizing themselves into cooperatives, a requirement under the modernization plan.
These sentiments were shared by traditional jeepney drivers who were interviewed by OpinYon Laguna.
Among the issues they raised is the prohibitive cost of modern PUVs – from P2.4 million to P2.7 million per unit, which they say is out of reach for many ordinary drivers.
“Magkano na nga lamang ang kinikita namin ngayon, papaano pa kaya kami makakapaghulog?” "Kuya Nemy", a jeepney driver based in San Pedro City, told OpinYon Laguna. “Okay lang sa amin na tanggalin na yung mga bulok na jeepney, pero yung mga maayos naman, bakit pa kailangang alisin?”
Transportation officials say that cooperatives and corporations who wish to modernize their units could avail of loans payable up to seven years.
However, progressive groups point out that with these loans carrying interest of up to six percent, this would mean that drivers would have to pay up to P3.4 million just for the new modern PUVs.
The monthly amortization alone for the new modern PUVs could cost drivers up to P33,000 if the loan was availed through government banks, or up to P45,000 to P50,000 a month if the loan was availed through private banks, according to some sources.
This is where the government’s encouragement for individual operators to join cooperatives and corporations comes in, as officials claim this will enable drivers to pool their resources together and get better access to financial institutions.
Still, jeepney drivers in Laguna remain unconvinced.
“Sa buong GMA [Cavite] nga, wala pang bumibili ng modern PUVs,” "Tatay Jaime", who plies the San Pedro – San Jose (GMA) route, said.
“In fact, may dalawang minibus na dinala sa amin, pero hindi naman kinaya ng pamunuan,” he related. “Tapos iilan lang yung minibus na kaya namin tapos pinapahulugan pa sa driver. Buti sana kung swelduhan ang mga driver, e paano namin kakayanin iyon?”
The cost of joining a cooperative alone has also put off traditional jeepney drivers, according to Apple Higuit, another jeepney driver from San Pedro City.
"Nasa P14,000 po ang shares of stock [na kailangang bayaran], plus P2,500 pa po para sa membership," Higuit told OpinYon Laguna.
While it's true that cooperatives will shoulder the maintenance costs of the modern PUVs, some jeepney drivers in San Pedro City said their livelihood has not improved by much since they started plying modern PUVs.
“Sa tingin ko hindi masyadong gumanda ang buhay namin kasi arawan pa rin kami, kahit na sabihin na swelduhan na kami rito,” a modern PUV driver who requested anonymity told OpinYon Laguna.
Higuit also said the so-called "boundary" system still exists with the modern PUVs, which meant some drivers were left with just over P300 take-home per day.
"Paano po sasapat yung P300 na kita sa pang-araw-araw naming gastusin, lalo na't mataas pa rin ang presyo ng mga bilihin?" he said.
As of press time, OpinYon Laguna has yet to receive a reply from the San Pedro City Cooperative and Livelihood Development Office (CCLDO) to its queries on how the city government is helping out jeepney drivers and cooperatives.
Then there is the issue of whether some models of modern PUVs are suited for certain routes, especially in Laguna province.
This is true especially in San Pedro City, where road conditions, especially in the so-called “Upper Villages,” makes it impractical for some of the modern PUVs plying those routes.
“Yung dinadaan namin na ruta, hindi applicable sa modern PUVs,” “Kuya Nemy,” who plies the San Pedro Town Proper – Bayan-Bayanan route, explained. “Yung daan kasi papunta sa amin [sa Bayan-Bayanan], masikip at matarik na, tapos baku-bako pa, kaya takaw-aksidente.”
In fact, some modern PUVs plying the San Pedro Town Proper – Estrella/Langgam route were reportedly unable to pass through Barangay Estrella due to the narrow and steep roads in that barangay.
While commuters interviewed by OpinYon Laguna believe that the current push for PUV modernization is the right move, the implementation should be made more gradual.
“Ang modernization ng mga jeepney ay mas convenient at safe para sa mga commuters, pero dapat unti-untiin ang transition dahil may mga drivers ng lumang jeepneys na yun lang source of income. So yun lang, balanseng approach lang para sa kalagayan ng both jeepney drivers at commuters. Konting compromise at pangunawa sa side ng isa’t isa,” was how Dowell Bautista, a commuter, put it to OpinYon.
Meanwhile, commuter Lindsay Escudero believes that now is not the right time for the government to push for the phaseout of traditional jeepneys.
“Bagama’t maganda ang layunin ng jeep modernization, maari nitong matanggalan ng pinagkakakitaan ang mga jeepney drivers na umaasa lamang sa pabarya-barya na kita araw-araw. Sa aking palagay, hindi pa ito ang nararapat na panahon upang ipatupad ang traditional jeepney phase-out, lalo pa’t walang kongkretong plano ang gobyerno para sa mga drivers na hindi kakayanin ang gastos ng modern jeepney,” she said.
Not A Real Solution
On the other hand, labor leader Padjo Valdenor expressed his conviction that the planned jeepney phaseout will not solve the long-term issue of the lack of mass transportation in Metro Manila and in the provinces.
“Ngayon pa lang, problemado na tayo sa transportasyon, lalo na’t bumabalik na ang ekonomiya matapos ang pandemya. Paano pa kaya ang mga commuter kapag nawala na ang mga jeepney?” Valdenor said in an interview with OpinYon Laguna.
“Sa aking palagay, ang buong programa ng LTFRB ay isang malaking kalokohan at hindi masosolusyunan ang problema natin sa transportasyon,” he added. “Sa kasalukuyan, natutugunan pa ng mga jeepney ang problema natin sa mass transportation, pero tila ang punto ng LTFRB ay ang mga jeepney pa ang problema.”
Valdenor also believes that the weeklong transport strike is a “just protest” of jeepney drivers and operators who face losing their livelihood due to the push of government agencies for modernization.
“Dapat maunawaan ng mga commuters na inaalisan ng kabuhayan ang isang sektor ng lipunan dahil sa jeepney phaseout. At kapag nangyari iyan, hindi ba mga commuter ang magiging kawawa dahil wala na rin silang masasakyan?” he stressed.