- A driver's group that claims 40,000 members plans a transport strike from March 6 to March 12, 2023.
- Modernisation programme calls for phaseout of the iconic jeepneys, which could completely disappear from Philippine roads from December 31, 2023.
- Minibuses or e-jeepneys are favoured, and could completely cripple the local jeepney manufacturing.
- Importers of new units could reap bumper profits, with benefits to local e-jeepney makers unclear.
Manila: Filipino drivers of traditional “jeepneys” are staging a transport strike from March 6, 2023, a group that claims 40,000 driver-members said.
The protest action is being spearheaded by the group Manibela. Their call: Stop the government’s plan to “phase out” old transport Public Utility Jeepneys (PUJs) by June 30, 2023.
The main issue: money. The would-be strikers want the government to raise the subsidy from the current Php200,000 per jeepney to be phased out to enable them to purchase a new minibus, or an e-jeepney that costs at least seven times more.
Jeepneys are relics of World War II. Willys Jeeps left behind by US forces were transformed into colourful contraptions that show what's described as Filipino ingenuity. Over the past decades, the design hasn't changed much.
They're considered dinosaurs. Some pretty, bust mosly ugly — but useful — kind of rolling dinosaurs. With very little in the way of safety features, they are powered today mostly by reconditioned diesel engines discarded by Japan, and put together in backyard assemblies.
They're built tough, the workhorse of last-mile transport, and is considered a poor man’s mode of daily commute. And because there's no mandatory retirement age for commercial vehicles in the Philippines, many jeepneys are simply too old, battered, undesirable, unsafe. But every Filipino's emotional connection to them cannot be denied.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr seems to have taken the striking drivers’ side for now. He seems to be their only hope.
What we know so far:
What is PUJ/PUV modernisation?
In 2017, the Philippine government launched the Public Utility Vehicle Modernisation Programme (PUVMP). It seeks to change the landscape of public transportation.
In general, the program calls for the phasing-out of jeepneys, buses and other Public Utility Vehicles (PUVs) that are at least 15 years old, and replacing them with safer, more comfortable and more eco-friendly alternatives over the next three years (2018-2020). This only happened in part.
In practice, it sought to replace ALL traditional jeepneys with mostly imported minibuses. Hundreds of transport cooperatives have been formed in cities and provinces, representing thousands of units of modern PUVs.
When is the start of the phaseout?
Everything rests on a date: June 30, 2023. That’s the end-date by which owners and drivers of traditional jeepneys must be phased-out. The Land Transport Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) is the state's implementor. Following the ruckus and an appeal from the President, the deadline has been extended to December 31, 2023.
Now, if operators want to keep their franchise beyond December 31, 2023, they have to purchase a new, modern minibus before the deadline.
How the phaseout will be conducted:
- Change of ownership: Drivers and operators must form or be a part of a cooperative in order to purchase modernised jeepney at the cost of Php 1.3 to Php2.4 million per unit.
- Fleet management: Cooperatives or corporations will manage the fleet; and the vehicles will be under the name of cooperatives/corporations.
- Route rationalisation: All routes will be reviewed; based on this, the new vehicles will be allocated based on user data.
- Biggest winners: Those who stand to win big are importers of minibuses, lender/banks who will charge 6% p.a. interest and fleet management companies.
200,000government's "financial aid", or purchase offer for old jeepneys that will be phased out.
• 100%: New minibuses that will replace the old jeepneys (PUJs) will all be 100% imported units and spare parts.
• 500,000: Estimated number of PUJ drivers will be affected, including 300,000 operators.
What are the strikers’ demands?
Drivers led by Manibela oppose the Public Utility Jeepney (PUJ) modernisation plan being implemented by the Department of Transportation (DoTr).
They seek the withdrawal of Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board’s (LTFRB) Memorandum Circular No. 2023-013.
300-400pesos ($6 to $8) is the average daily income of a "jeepney" driver.
Highlights of the memorandum:
• It sets a June 30, 2023 deadline for individual operators to join the modernisation program — by forming a cooperative or corporation — or risk losing their franchises, and therefore their jobs.
• Driver or operators will be mandated to fork out between Php1.3 to Php2.5 million (about $45,536.5) per unit to buy a modern PUV to replace all the passenger jeepneys being phased out.
• Following an appeal from President Marcos Jr, the deadline has since been extended to December 31 by the LTFRB to give jeepney operators more time.
What are the terms for acquiring modern PUVs?
• Modern jeeps will be given by government to existing jeepney drivers as a loan — 7 years to pay, with 6% interest and 5% equity.
• Overall, payment for the initial price of Php2.4 million per unit would reach Php3.4 million plus over the payment period.
• Big players who have the capital could ringfence the ownership and operation of replacement e-jeepneys — they have the buying power to raise the amount needed to buy 15 imported modern jeeps (at Php2.4 million each) for one route.
• For example, in 2022, top Filipino businessman Manny Pangilinan has invested 500 new jeeps. He then announced that he earmarked Php1.5 billion to buy additional 530 e-jeepneys to cover 35 routes in the country by 2027.
• Operators and their supporters say the numbers are stacked against them — and ordinary drivers won’t be able to afford full payment of the replacement, modern PUVs.
• Supporters of the transport strike are also calling for the nationalisation of the transport system, and increase funding support for safe, accessible and quality public transport.
What happens after December 31, 2023?
Manibela chairman Mar Valbuena, said that the now-extended deadline still means traditional passenger jeepneys will be impounded after December 31, 2023. To retrieve an impounded vehicle, it would cost around Php50,000 ($1,000).
What do authorities say about the impending strike?
The head of LTFRB has said the striking drivers represent only about 10 per cent of the public transport vehicles.
“There is no pressure on us, more than 90 percent of transport groups have signified support but due to Senate resolution and based on the request of the DOTR, we will be extending the deadline to allow the transport sector time to consolidate,” LTFRB Chairman Teofilo Guadiz III told local media.
Is there a change of policy?
There is only a change in timeline, but the PUV Modernisation Programme still stands.
Guadiz said they will be issuing a new memorandum circular that will supersede the LTFRB Memorandum 2023—013 in the coming days—the content of which basically extends the deadline for the consolidation. But he said the concerns raised by the transport groups will also be considered in their discussion.
Who are the groups joining the strike?
A nationwide transport strike was declared on February 27 by Manibela, led by its chairperson Mar Valbuena.
How many jeepneys or drivers will join the strike?
The group claims that the week-long strike will involve an estimated 40,000 jeepneys and Utility Vehicles (UV) express units.
Manibela has urged other transport groups to join the nationwide transport strike.
Will all public transport drivers and operator groups be joining the strike?
Not everyone is joining. At least eight clusters representing some of the biggest transport groups in the country have stated they won’t join next week’s strike, according to Romando Artes, chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA).
- Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operators Nationwide (Piston),
- Federation of Jeepney Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines (Fejodap),
- UV Express group,
- Association of Concerned Transport Organizations (Acto),
- Pasang Masda,
- Liga ng Transportasyon at Operators sa Pilipinas (LTOP),
- The Alliance of Transport Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines (Altodap), and
- Northern Mindanao Federation of Transport Service Cooperative (Nomfedtrasco)
Nomfedtrasco claims they have 47 primary transport service member-cooperatives. There were at least 20 transport service cooperative members that already have operational modernised units — and are therefor not covered by the jeepney phaseout order — comprising 45 per cent of its membership.
What help does the government offer to owners of PUJs?
To boost their purchasing power, the government is urging drivers/owners or “operators” to form cooperatives. That way, they will have greater borrowing capacity when they apply for bank loans to replace the aging jeepneys.
The government also offers Php200,000 (about $4,000) for each PUJ that will be phased out.
What do the strikers say about this offer?
They say it’s not enough. That in order to buy e-jeeps —and given the relatively small income of daily earnings of drivers — drivers and operators say that they won’t be able to pay for the mortgage. They claim it will be a huge burden — and they feat it will bury them in debt.
Do the strikers oppose transport modernisation?
No. The drivers and operators say they do not oppose modernisation per se. Even the drivers and operators favour the move to modernise transport.
“If government really wants to push modernisation, they should support the jeepney drivers/operators and fully subsidise the modernisation,” according a statement in Tagalog.
What will happen during the strike?
A number of schools and universities have announced the suspension of in-person classes during the jeepney strike week. In the capital Manila, the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Ateneo, Miriam College, the University of the Philippines and the University of Santo Tomas (UST) announced that all in-person classes, starting from March 6 to 11, 2023, will shift online.
What did Filipino leaders say about the planned protest strike?
On Wednesday, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., urged transport groups to call off their planned week-long strike.
While the president assured transport groups government would tweak the implementation of the PUV modernisation programme, he pushed back on calls to completely junk the plan. He said it was “necessary” to modernise public transport — though he admitted that its implementation was “not good”.
What do experts say about PUVMP?
A 2020 paper prepared by the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department of the House of Representatives (lower legislative chamber) analysed the programme and found that implementation is beset by loopholes.
What the study found:
- “Right sequencing” of activities and programmes in the implementation of the PUVMP is “very critical”.
- The study suggested, for instance, that before embarking on fleet modernisation, the programme should have started with regulatory reform, Local Public Transport Route Plan formulation and submission, and route rationalisation.
- Additional grace period and more time should be given to operators and drivers to prepare.
- “This would give stakeholders better appreciation of the programme,” the Congressional document stated.
Today, most jeepneys are backyard-fabricated vehicles with chassis that are several decades old and engines more than 15 years old, capable of accommodating 12-32 passengers.
Today, they are the backbone of the existing public transport system in the Philippines, especially the last-mile transport.
Will all jeepneys be decommissioned?
It's not clear. President Marcos Jr, said: “We have to implement it in a different way,” adding that he was against decommissioning jeepneys that are still safe to use.
According to him, “there are old ones that are still OK” and “that can still be used.”
The President also pointed out that the modernization program was “not urgent,” particularly the use of electric vehicles, as there is not yet enough infrastructure, such as charging stations for modern transport.
“Maybe we have to look properly at what the real timetable is for the introduction of electric vehicles, as to when exactly, if it is possible now,” he said.
What about the shift to e-vehicles or e-jeepneys?
The PUV modernisation programme is seen as the first step in the government’s shift to electric vehicles. “We will eventually move there but we still need to fix the supply of renewables,” the president said.
“So those are the issues that need to be studied. It’s not that simple, but I’m hoping that with the initiatives we’re thinking of, we can convince the transport groups not to go on strike because the people will suffer and many more will suffer since they won’t be able to go to work,” he noted.
What happens if the jeepney strike pushes through?
President Marcos Jr said if the concerned transport groups refuse to heed his call to cancel their strike, the government would provide free rides to commuters from March 6 to March 12.