Group to gov’t: Address transport woes in 2020 SONA

Two days before the 2020 State of the Nation Address (SONA), a nation-wide transport coalition called on the government to address the dire state of the transport sector and prioritize the development of an inclusive, safe, sustainable, and efficient transportation system as a key aspect of national recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

           The Koalisyon ng Transportasyon para sa Mamamayan (KTM) on Saturday lamented the recent implementation of the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) and the revocation of franchise routes of traditional public utility vehicles (PUV), actions which were made without proper consideration of impacts to transport stakeholders.

            “Thousands of drivers, conductors and operators of public vehicles have been out of work for months in observance of health protocols and are struggling amidst this pandemic. Apparently not content with ignoring their woes, our government decided to ultimately phase out their means of living by implementing the PUVMP under the guise of ‘modernization,’” said Atty. Luke Espiritu of labor group Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP).

Implementation of the modernization program forwarded by the Department of Transportation (DOTR) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) began with the operation of modernized PUVs, implementation of an e-payment system which makes conductors obsolete, and handing over of operating franchises to a few large-scale companies.

“With these, they are enabling large corporations and powerful interest groups to take advantage of a nation in paralysis,” said Espiritu.

            The group expounded on the need for a better transportation system for all amidst the crisis, and questioned the integrity of the present modernization program.

            “As drivers and commuters ourselves, we understand the transportation needs of people today and we, too, want better mobility systems. This is why we are opposed to what is going on— the lack of available transportation due to the suspension of traditional public utility vehicles causes commuters to crowd together as they scramble for a ride, exposing them to great health risks while making them pay more. Drivers and operators are displaced, and, in the end, the transport sector will be in the hands of a profiteering few,” explained Alex Yague of the Provincial Bus Operators Association of the Philippines (PBOAP).

PBOAP’s Atty. Vincent Rondaliz adds, “we can only achieve a sustainable and efficient transport sector through a just transition — one which includes all stakeholders in every step of the process, from the decision-making in modernization plans to the reaping of benefits. If only the LTFRB and DOTR would actually talk to transport workers and commuters, they will know that we also desire low-carbon, efficient, and crisis resilient transportation, perhaps even more than they do, for as long as proper transition measures and consultations are in place.”

The group urged the government to withdraw the ‘modernization’ measures it has already set in place without considering the plight of affected groups, and demanded an inclusive pathway for the recovery and improvement of the transport industry.

            “We challenge the government to take the responsible route of modernizing transportation. We call on them to return  jeepneys and buses to their previous routes with the necessary support to ensure health standards, and to protect the rights and tenure of transportation workers and commuters. To this end, relief in the form of fuel subsidies and tax suspensions, and health care aid including testing and protective equipment, must also be provided. Most importantly, we urge them to listen to the voice of the public. Democracy must be upheld on all fronts – even on the road,” said Ed Laurentio of the National Land Transport Union (NLTU).

The group would continue to air these demands beginning with their participation in the upcoming SONAgkaisa demonstrations on Monday.