No media coverage on PUVMP provisions to address jeepney drivers’ concerns

AS REPORTED in some accounts, the government agreed to a dialogue with transport groups two days before the scheduled start of the jeepney drivers’ week-long transport strike in protest against the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP). The strike action went as scheduled on March 6. 

The focus on whether the strike was successful or not was made irrelevant by the decision of many schools to cancel face-to-face classes even at the tertiary level, with companies and groups adjusting schedules to mitigate the transport difficulties. There was a greater need at the time for reports on the background of the PUVMP, particularly the issues with which jeepney groups complained could not comply. As most commentary has pointed out, no one is against modernization, including jeepney drivers themselves. 

A few reports before the strike highlighted complaints of jeepney drivers. But there was no discussion of possible solutions. Government officials cited did not even talk about the need to hold talks with leaders of the associations, especially those intent on protesting the PUVMP. No news article in the periods February 22 to March 9 reviewed the original document or referred to the provisions of the program itself. 

First introduced in 2017, PUVMP was launched with the goal of phasing out old and unsafe jeepneys on the roads, replacing them with newer and more eco-friendly models, an objective on which there is general agreement. From the start however, the coverage was framed as a confrontation of contradictory interests. Media then did not dive into the contentious issues of modernization.  It was pushed by President Duterte as something that needed to be done but did not order a communication program or dialogue to explain the implementation, or to hear the concerns of the public who need the jeepneys in their daily commute. 

With the takeover of the new administration, news merely picked up the stalemate of positions taken by government and the jeepney associations. There was little public discussion of problematic issues. News reports did not refer to the document itself and the provisions provided in the program which could have been reviewed in light of complaints made by the drivers who depend on their routes for a living. 

During the week of the strike, drivers and operators raised two significant areas of concern: the requirements for industry consolidation and insufficient subsidy support for new units. The drivers’ underlying concern was the prospect of indebtedness and the loss of their control of their franchise. Unfortunately, these points were not adequately covered by the media before, during, and after the strike, leaving the public unaware of their implications.

Industry Consolidation’s report last March 3 cited DOTr’s first Department Order (DO) on PUVMP. DO 2017-011, or the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines, requires all drivers to join or form a cooperative or corporation that can procure a minimum of 15 units to operate a specific route. With a deadline until December 31, this has raised concerns among small and individual operators who may not have the resources to comply with the consolidation. 

But they were focused on the value of independent control of individual drivers over their units and their service. Mody Floranda, national president of transport group PISTON, stressed that the process is “wrong, deceitful, and coercive” as it would strip operators of their individual franchise rights and privileges.

Data shows that the requirement to consolidate would have significant effect on the conduct of the industry, affecting operators, especially in Metro Manila. As presented in a Senate hearing on March 9, Engr. Riza Marie Paches, board member of the Land Transportation and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), said that only 29 percent or 14,714 public utility vehicles (PUV) in the National Capital Region (NCR) applied for franchise consolidation. The low turnout reflects the need for a more equitable approach that safeguards the rights and interests of all operators while addressing the issues of efficiency and safety in the transportation sector.

A CNN Philippines’ February 23 report highlighted Floranda’s clarification that they were advocating for an approach that considers the many individuals involved: “Bukas kami sa usapin ng kooperatiba na kung ito po ay individual franchise at individual operator.” (We are open to talks about cooperatives if it will involve individual franchise and individual operator.)

Floranda emphasized that individual franchising must be preserved to prevent the creation of a “monopoly of only one.” According to him, this would ensure fair competition and the protection of the interests of small and individual operators.

No other report provided additional information on this central issue. 

Insufficient Subsidy

The drivers’ complaints projected the protest against “inadequate subsidy” for the costs of the program. There was a notable lack of follow-up on this issue, which should have highlighted the specific provisions for financial support already incorporated in the PUVMP. Interestingly enough, government officials themselves did not talk about the provisions to address the needs of the drivers and the difficulties they may experience with “modernization.”   

Most officials seemed oblivious to the terrible impact of the pandemic and plight of jeepney drivers during the lockdowns, painful conditions from which the communities have yet to recover. Official statements merely noted the postponement of the requirements until the end of 2023, which offers very little comfort when you have to deal with currently dire conditions. 

Most news accounts reported the increase of the subsidy available for drivers from PHP 160,000 to PHP 260,000. Jeepney drivers can use this subsidy to secure bank loans either with the Development Bank of the Philippines or Land Bank of the Philippines to pay for a modernized jeepney.

Consolidation does not solve anything both on the operator and the driver side. Ricardo Rebaño, president of the Federation of Jeepney Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines (FEJODAP), emphasized that operators, even if they were able to acquire 15 modern jeepneys, would need to pay PHP 475,000 worth of monthly amortization to cover operations of each unit, not mentioning additional expenses for fuel and maintenance. Small operators will be left behind. 

Other programs: expanded equity subsidy

In the same Senate hearing convened by the Committee on Public Services and on Finance last March 9, Paches referred to other readily available programs to support jeepney drivers and operators; including the participation of more private financial institutions accredited by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, and cooperative banks accredited by the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA). In addition to the PHP 260,000 loan from government financial institutions (GFI), public utility jeepneys (PUJ) from classes one to four are eligible for subsidies ranging from PHP 210,000 to PHP 360,000 from these private institutions, indicating that multiple avenues of financial assistance are available to the transport sector beyond the increased subsidy.

But these increased amounts still constitute indebtedness which is something that jeepney drivers are intent to avoid, given that the cost of one new unit under the program runs into PHP 2.8 million.  

“Entsuperneur” Program

Government is aware that some drivers will have to consider other means of livelihood. Affected drivers and operators who suffer the phase-out will receive a “social safety net” that guarantees a stable income. With the Entsuperneur Program, Paches said that drivers who wish to transition to other industries will be provided with business packages worth PHP 30,000 to help them secure their financial well-being.

“Tsuper Iskolar” Program

Also during the hearing, Paches described the Tsuper Iskolar Program. Established in 2018 in collaboration with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), this program aims to provide free training and capacity building activities to the transport sector and their dependents, with the goal of enhancing their skills and knowledge to further entrepreneurial ventures. 

Vehicle Useful Life Program

The Vehicle Useful Life program was another mode of assistance presented to the Senate. The program aims to incentivize jeepney drivers who own units 15 years or older to surrender their traditional jeepneys to scrapping facilities. The proceeds will then be used as an additional source of funding to finance new PUV units. 

In’s report last March 6, Joey Salceda, Albay representative, suggested a similar approach, a “trade-in” scheme wherein the government purchases old jeepneys for PHP 100,000 to PHP 150,000 per unit with no additional conditions. Salceda based his recommendation on the United States’ Car Allowance Rebate System as a “model that we can modify.”

All of the above however hardly address the dislocation of a huge sector and the much-needed service required by the commuting public. That public will see clearly that government’s desire to modernize must find the resources to support auxiliary routes to get them from transport points to their homes or offices. Planners and government strategies should have incorporated the budgetary requirements in pressing forward with modernization of an integral component of public transportation in the country.

Media’s Role 

The role of the media is crucial, providing program specific provisions to assist but also in explaining the severity of requirements imposed on a struggling transport sector. It is right to clarify the basis of drivers’ concerns. It might convince government to do what it needs to do for modernization to be a meaningful and sustainable plan.

Media should not forget that they can do so much to hold elected officials accountable for their promises and commitments. The proof of the plan is in its implementation. Until that happens, media must be wary that it does not serve so readily to echo government propaganda.