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Government tries to forestall inconvenient transport strike with work, school suspension

Operators announced a strike by their federation members in protest against a government programme to phase out the jeepney

Gulf News

Manila: The Philippine president’s office attempted to avert a disruptive transport strike on Monday, by declaring a holiday for government workers and others across the country.

“Classes at all levels, both public and private, and government work, nationwide, will be suspended for tomorrow, October 16, 2017,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said on Sunday.

The left wing passenger jeep group PISTON, and the United Transport Operators and Drivers Nationwide, had earlier announced a strike by their federation members to press for their opposition against a government programme to phase out the jeepney.

PISTON secretary general George San Mateo said the call for the phase-out of the passenger jeep, more commonly known as the “jeepney” will be to the disadvantage the drivers and operators because they would not be able to afford new the new “e-Jeepney” units that the government plans to replace their vehicles with.

Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said the formal announcement on the cancellation of classes was made by the Office of Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea but the suspension on government work would be covered by a memorandum circular.

Work in the private sector would not be covered by the suspension.

PISTON’s call for a two-day jeepney strike is its own form of resistance against the phase out of the jeepney which had been plying Philippine roads since after the Second World War.

“The planned phase out of the jeepney is tantamount to scrapping the vital role that the jeepney played in the history of the Philippines. Jeepneys symbolise the resiliency and the adaptability of the Filipino. Jeepneys provided transport in the aftermath of the Second World War when the country was devastated and transportation and commerce ride on the back of these hardy vehicles which were adopted from military jeeps which were leftover by the Americans with their withdrawal from the country,” Mateo said.

Not all transport groups however are taking part in the strike. PISTON is just among several jeepney organisations and it is not the biggest.

However, it is the most militant and had been involved in major transport strikes in the past.

From the original four to six seat prototype of the US-general purpose (GP), wheeled transport, the jeep had undergone metamorphosis through the years to models that can seat as many as 30 people.

Despite the changes it had undergone, the jeepney remained the smoke-belching, bumpy and uncomfortable transport that Filipinos had already gotten used to.

The Philippines is planning to replace the diesel-fed jeepney with less polluting and more efficient option, the “e-Jeepney” which runs on either electricity or cleaner running gasoline and diesel engines.

Aside from changes in the engine and overall shape to make it more functional, proposed modifications under the jeepney makeover called the Public Utility Vehicle Modernisation Programme or PUVMP include the general use of an Automatic Fare Collection System, closed-circuit television cameras, a GPS navigation system, dashboard cameras, Wi-Fi, and speed limiters.