Groups lift transport strike, LTFRB pushes talks


TRANSPORT groups Manibela and Piston decided on Wednesday to cut short their supposed weeklong strike after they received a “commitment” from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. that the government will review and revise the Public Utility Vehicles Modernization Program (PUVMP).

“We are not against the modernization program, but we hope that this will be implemented in a manner that does not leave anyone behind—humane and just. We will hold President Marcos Jr. to his commitment that the government is open to discuss and revise the implementation of the PUVMP to ensure that the livelihood of our PUV drivers and operators will not be disrupted. For this, our group has decided to stop the transport strike together with Piston and ply our routes again starting tomorrow,” Manibela Chairman Mar Valbuena said.

Manibela and Piston was supposed to conduct a weeklong strike starting Monday in protest of the PUVMP, particularly its features on consolidated franchising, the limited choices of suppliers for “modern” jeepneys, and the financing terms for drivers repaying bank loans for the vehicles.

Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) Chairman Teofilo E. Guadiz III welcomed the decision of transport groups, as this will “benefit commuters who were likewise deeply affected” by the two-day strike.

“We have never wavered in asking our friends from Manibela and Piston to sit down with us, to thresh out their concerns about the PUVMP and the modernization of the public transportation industry. We are glad they listened to our President,” Guadiz said.

He added that Manibela and Piston can take this “opportune time to finally sit down and help each other come up with an effective public transportation modernization program that is responsive and inclusive not only of their needs but also that of the commuting public, who will ultimately benefit from a modernized, progressive, efficient, comfortable and safe commuting experience.”

Officially introduced in 2017, the PUVMP is a 10-point program that ultimately involves the phaseout of the old PUVs to make way for more modern and environmentally-friendly vehicles.  While its proponents say enough time has been given the sector since 2017, the fact is that the pandemic disrupted the transport sector, throwing tens of thousands of drivers out of jobs amid the lockdowns.

One crucial step toward the vision for transitioning from old PUVs to modern, clean ones, is the consolidation of individual franchises into transport cooperatives or corporations, which will provide groups access to business financing to bankroll the acquisition of modern vehicles.

Manibela and Piston were particularly opposed to the consolidation and the need for drivers to shoulder payments for new units.

Latest data from the LTFRB showed that about 62.4 percent or about 98,000 jeepneyes have consolidated nationwide, while 71.7 percent or about 14,000 of the roughly 19,000 UV Express have consolidated.

This means that about 65,000 drivers are in danger of losing their livelihoods if they fail to consolidate by December 31.

The program, to date, has a 4.5-percent success rate with only 6,814 modern jeepneys deployed versus the universe of 158,000 PUVs with franchises.