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Reli German: Jeepney strikers and voiceless commuters


Yesterday and today, a jeepney drivers’ organization was supposed to have launched yet another transport strike to oppose the government’s plan to remove jeepneys from the streets of Metro Manila.

However, the group “postponed” their tigil-pasada, purportedly in deference to a hearing to be held on Thursday by the Senate public services committee. The group announced that they will instead hold protest rallies and caravans that will essentially have the same effect of abandoning their regular routes for two days.

Wow, not only are jeepney strikes being used as coercive weapons against the government; they also serve to bully the voiceless public into helplessly submitting to their intimidations.

The government says that the phaseout of the old public utility jeepneys (PUJs) is part of its plan to modernize this segment of the transportation industry. It would involve initially some 270,000 units nationwide that are at least 15 years old, dilapidated and unsafe. These are to be replaced with more modern, more fuel-efficient vehicles costing P1.2 million to P1.6 million each, depending on the model.

For sure, there are pros and cons in this modernization plan. By now, jeepney drivers and operators must already be familiar with the details.

However, what is deplorable is the callous indifference of the strikers to the difficulties and great inconvenience that their actions inflict on the commuting public from whom they derive their day-to-day income to meet their basic necessities.
They appear to have adopted a “commuters-be-damned” attitude each time they abandon their routes, which they do only after they have accumulated enough money for their day’s needs. And to think that their vehicles are covered by Certificates of Public Convenience issued by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) which classify their business as a form of public service.

Is declaring strikes the only manner by which drivers and operators can air whatever grievances they have against the government?

Can’t they ask civic organizations like the Jaycees and the Rotarians, their friends and allies in Congress, the national Liga Ng Mga Barangay, the Mayors’ League or the Governors’ League or even the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to mediate with government? I’m certain many of these groups could arrange an in-depth dialogue with authorities that would explore ways of settling the dispute and finding compromises that may be acceptable to all.

They could also bring their grievances to the courts, file a case against the government, argue their position and possibly, ask for a restraining order or even an injunction that might provide the relief they are seeking. Why is it that every time they oppose any government move, they use commuters as their unwilling pawns?

This is not to say that the government is without fault. There is, for instance, the fact that under this modernization program only individuals or groups that can afford at least 10 units will be given franchises while those who can afford just one or two units will be deprived of their business. There’s also the government’s failure to provide enough and reliable transport vehicles to cater to the riding public during such strikes.

There must be a middle ground somewhere.
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