Manila: Multitudes of commuters in Metro Manila were inconvenienced by a strike called by groups opposing government plans to modernise passenger jeeps.
From early morning, thousands of commuters had lined up the sides of the metropolis’ thoroughfares awaiting for a chance to get a ride to reach their offices and workplaces.
“I need to get to work. If I don’t my family will get hungry,” Ronald Bernales, who works at a printing press in Quezon City tells Gulf News in an interview as he takes his chance at getting a ride from Malabon City.
“I’m a daily wage earner, I have no earnings for the day if I don’t work,” the father of four said.
Bernales is among the tens of thousands who took a chance at commuting to work despite a transport strike announced by major transport groups in Metro Manila.
While the government had fielded buses, trucks and pickups to alleviate the inconvenience caused by the strike, the sheer number of people who want to get a ride for their daily commute would be difficult to accommodate.
Groups such as the Alliance of Concerned Transport Operators (ACTO) and the Piston (a left-wing transport confederation) had announced as early as Thursday that they would be holding a strike.
Several schools had announced no classes in anticipation of the protest action.
The transport group’s demands had been the same since three years ago when the government announced plans to phase out jeepneys (the locally developed minibuses). They asked government to scrap the modernisation plan.
“We cannot afford to acquire news units based on what is required from us under the Public Utility Vehicle Modernisation Programme (PUVMP),” Efren de Luna, president of the ACTO said.
Piston for its part, said the PUVMP is just a ploy by big business to make money out of the plan to upgrade transportation.
Most of the jeepneys are owned by the drivers themselves of part of a small fleet named to an operator.
Under the PUVMP, the government will provide a loan of up to P2 million (Dhs 141,594) to the jeepney operator so they can purchase units that are Euro4 compliant or runs on electricity. It envisions that by 2020, there would be drastically fewer jeepneys plying the key thoroughfares of the country.
The iconic jeeps, an adaptation of the general purpose (GP) military vehicles that the US military had left behind in the Philippines at the end of World War II had undergone minor cosmetic make overs through the years.
However, it remains the smoke-belching, cramped, people carrier that had been left behind by more modern modes of transport such as air-conditioned buses and electric powered shuttles.
For its part, the presidential palace said the implementation of the PUVMP) is “long overdue”.
“The modernisation of the public transport system is long overdue and the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte will not be intimated nor cowed by threats of protests and strikes coming from those who only think of their own parochial interest,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement on Sunday.
“This Administration is committed to serve the paramount interest of the citizens for convenient and accessible public transportation,” he added.
As the palace and transport groups remain at loggerheads over whether the jeepney should proceed or not, Bernales decided to take a several kilometre hike to his place of work and contemplate on plans for the next day in the event the transport strike would be held again.
“The strikers will claim victory, so will the government, but the bottom line is it is us, the commuters, who lose out in this dilemma. Every day we had to bear with difficulties in commuting, this strike is making things worse,” Bernales said.