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The JEEPNEY Connection

To phase or not to phase out? That is the question.

The vintage Jeepney, or “dyip,” popularly dubbed the “king of the road” that plies the country’s streets and all roads from the countryside to the cities and urban centers since post World War II, will soon take a bow. It will quickly phase out. That is if the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines (OFG) continue to take effect to pursue the government’s Jeepney or the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program started in 2017 under former President Rodrigo Duterte.

That year, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) under the Department of Transportation (DoTr) declared traditional jeepneys unsafe and environmentally damaging. The Modernization Program, which the DoTr implements through the LTFRB, aims to solve road transportation concerns, mainly focused on jeepneys and buses, safety, traffic congestion, and air pollution. It is part of the “aggressive and comprehensive “Road-Based Public Transport Reform Program” under the Duterte government to make vehicles on the road, especially the most used PUV, “environment-friendly, safe, compliant with international safety standards, the Euro IV emission standards to help reduce carbon emissions.”

Under the present administration, the LTFRB began to push for the OFG and declared the plan to eventually phase out the “unsafe” jeepneys off the country’s roads. Then, it announced it would require individual jeepney franchise holders to consolidate and join cooperatives to give way to modern and safe public vehicles. It set the deadline to June 30.

Last straw

With the OFG as its reference, the LTFRB announced it would no longer allow single-unit operators on the road. Instead, it would require individual jeepney franchise holders to consolidate and join cooperatives to enable them to acquire loans to have modern jeepneys. Each cooperative must have at least 15 franchises. All drivers and operators are required to upgrade their vehicles into modern jeepneys. They can loan from state-owned banks if they do not have money to upgrade. The approved modern PUVs—with Euro 4 or electrically powered engines - can cost PhP2.5M each! But only foreign companies manufacture modern PUVs, like Hyundai and Isuzu!

All hell broke loose. Drivers say they have struggled for so long and with barely any help from the government, even during the Pandemic. Now, the government will require them to use imported vehicles and pay for them through loans! According to the operators and drivers’ associations led by Manibela, Piston, and others, it is the final straw.

Who does not want modern and safe public utility vehicles? The Pandemic has inflicted so much already on low-income families. Most drivers subsist on low wages and, with the enforced phase-out guidelines, how can they work to pay off millions of debt and interest if they loan from banks to upgrade their jeepneys? I sensed the distraught and deep-seated anger when they announced on national TV and radio that they had no other resort but to stage a strike, their last option to bring their pleas and woes to the government.

Last week, the noise and the uncertainty about the jeepney phase-out triggered a call by drivers and operators’ associations for a nationwide strike. About 40,000 traditional jeepneys and UV express vehicles in the NCR were expected to join the week-long strike, a first since face-to-face classes began since the Pandemic. I asked 45-year-old Mando, a driver plying the Calabanga-Naga route, if he joined the strike. He laughed because even if he did not join, he decided not to work that day. After all, the provincial government suspended classes anyway.

The strike took off for a day. According to media reports, Metro Manila was the most affected with 80 percent of jeepney transport paralyzed. Everyone agree the contentious concern is about safety, not the Jeepney itself. Nevertheless, the iconic Jeepney captured the national consciousness. There was a disruption of classes and offices. Senate called for a review of the Phase-out policy, and the DoTr clarified on national media that the modernization program does not seek to phase out the iconic design of the traditional “king of the road”.

The same week, diesel and kerosene registered the most significant price hikes, and nobody seemed to bother. It has become a numbing daily occurrence for all. Other problems continue to hog media headlines: killings, the oil spill that has reached Palawan and Boracay, and rising inflation. We may be barking at the wrong tree and worsening the problems of the people whose burden we want to ease for a while as we try to rebound the economy. Maybe we can start fixing first the lack of infrastructure, dilapidated roads, lamp posts, congested and unsafe urban and city settlements, constant flooding, low income, low agricultural produce, mulcting cops, inefficient offices in most LGUs, malnutrition, and so on.

Jeepneys connect to the Filipinos’ psyche and daily life. They have been an iconic mode of public transportation in the Philippines for decades - affordable and convenient transportation to millions of commuters. The jeepneys inherited from WWII American service vehicles remind us of the ingenuity of the Filipino entrepreneur Sarao, who converted it to benefit mass transport. It is a cultural symbol of struggle, creativity, innovativeness, and local industry. True to its original form, the jeep is a favorite tourist icon. However, to be responsive, we need a more practical solution to present-day concerns.

Modernize, not phase out. Subsidize and innovate for national industry and development!


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