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Friday, April 19, 2024

Review of drivers’ repayment of PUV modernization loan urged

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REVIEW the business plan, but first hold the June 30 deadline for the jeepney modernization program. This was one solon’s suggested course of action a day after senators adopted a resolution urging the Executive to step back from its arbitrary deadline, which has raised concern for its impact on thousands of transport workers and disruptions for millions of commuters and national productivity.

Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian said that while he supported the pre-pandemic blueprint for the multi-phase program to phase out post-war jeepneys and replace them with modern units that use clean energy, so much has happened since then, especially with Covid-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“In 2017, the business plan was for modernization, with drivers being given equity and the balance of the bank loans to be repaid by them over time,” Gatchalian said mostly in Filipino.

At that time, he recalled in a radio interview, petroleum prices were “more or less at P20 per liter; P30 would be a high figure already.”

Now, however diesel is at P60 to P70 per liter. That means, the senator added, the driver has lost a huge chunk of his take-home funds, “almost half was lost,” rendering him incapable of repaying the huge loan under the modernization program.

Worst-hit sector

PUBLIC utility vehicle (PUV) drivers were among the worst-hit sector in the pandemic owing to the long, extended lockdowns. Many permanently lost their livelihood. Those who survived the pandemic economically are still struggling to recover.

“More than half lost [their take-home] so hindi na nila mababayaran ang utang dahil lumiit yung kanilang take-home pay [they can no longer repay the loan because their take-home pay has shrunk].”

Thus, Gatchalian said, mostly in Filipino, “the point now is to review well the modernization program because times have changed; the situation is drastically altered.”

The senator said he “definitely” favors suspending the deadline while oil prices remain high and the Russian-Ukraine war continues to impact much of the global economy.

Meantime, he concedes, though, that “there are good results from modernization; first, the environment gets cleaner because of the use of Euro 4. Even better would be transitioning to electric vehicles so that the effects of a much cleaner environment are felt,” he added.

Moreover, he noted that the modern jeep “is bigger, can take 40 people to 50 people; thus, more sufficient in terms of passenger capacity.”

Suspend deadline

ASKED how long he thinks the suspension should be, Gatchalian replied, “while the Ukraine war, the Russian invasion is there, let’s suspend first since drivers won’t be able to pay back the loans anyway. Their arrears will pile up, penalties also;” thus, plunging them deeper into poverty.

On Tuesday, when senators were discussing Sen. Grace Poe’s proposed resolution (later adopted) asking the Executive to suspend the June 30 deadline, several senators had noted that the impact of a forced modernization on an unprepared sector and government would put more people in poverty, thus violating a key commitment to the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Moreover, Gatchalian said that with the current fiscal deficit, the government itself would be hard put to raise funds for the subsidy. It had promised to defray by P160,000 the equity requirement of those availing of loans under the program—a measly amount for each borrower, given the P2-million-and-up going rate for modern jeepneys. But, taken collectively, the meager subsidy also impacts government’s fiscal balance substantially, the senator said.

Image credits: Bibo Nueva España/Senate PRIB

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