OPINIONS: The paradox of transport strikes; Jeepney drivers, modernization is not a war

Read two opinion pieces on the jeepney modernization program and current transport strike, from staff writers Datlangin and Malantic.

© Mary Nicole Datlangin

The paradox of transport strikes

by Danielle Jorge Malantic

Once again, work and classes have been suspended as the result of a transport strike. This October 16, transport groups such as the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON) and the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) have planned to arrange a mass protest against the Public Utility Jeepney phaseout program. They argue that the phaseout of jeepneys will lead to the takeover of foreign companies and big business in regard to public transport. Their solution, as opposed to the corporate takeover of public transport, is to instead work towards a nationalized public transport system favorable to its workers and the masses.

It brings to mind the transport strike last September, which similarly brought the suspension of classes in several places. As such, with a protest numbering in the tens of thousands, the operation of everyday life must be put on hold, both for commuters and protesters.

Yet one wonders what these transport strikes do to help improve our public transportation. Almost like a paradox, they seem to do the opposite.

These strikes, with their presence on the streets, bring most forms of transport to a halt. Whether it be public or private, it’s generally hard to drive around when hundreds of protesters are marching in the streets. And while they have the right to make their voices heard, it comes at the expense of other forms of transport, having to deal with swathes of protesters disrupting operations. Not to mention countless other aspects of daily life having to accommodate with the strike.

Still they march on, making their cause known. But to whom do they make their cause known to? To the commuters, who are staying at home in response to a suspension, or stuck in their car probably listening to the radio? To the government, who are most likely aware of their cause, listening to countless other complaints? Or to the media, who will most likely cover their protest anyway?

Making your position on an issue is easy to do, given enough power to do so; it’s getting people to understand your plight that’s difficult. Even with oft-reported news on these strikes and their general cause, rarely do you get to hear the argument beyond the surface. Perhaps this is a problem of the receiver and not the messenger, but in any case, their cause to those uncaring remains muddled and unclear. Without taking the time to know every side of an issue, we are left only with fragments of an issue and an opinion molded through what others tell us.

So we must take time to listen to their plight, and understand that there are other factors that may hinder their cause.

The media, in their haste to get coverage on the issue first, rush to get their stories without examining the issue further. Once the issue resolves itself, little coverage remains on the topic, and thus it slowly fades into obscurity, a victim of the sensationalism which the media continues to chase.

Meanwhile, the government turns a blind eye to their protests, at times even putting down the expression of their sorrows, such as with the Department of Transportation questioning their motives and labelling their methods as false propaganda. They claim that the modernization program is not anti-poor, yet they themselves fail to define the price of the e-jeeps, instead choosing to focus on the low equity and interest rates, ignoring that jeepney operators may not possess the funds and salary to fully pay for them. So jeepney operators continue to protest, in hopes that the government may give more than passing glance.

And, of course, the public themselves continue to be irritated at the occasional strike here or there, claiming that it inconveniences their lives, instead of listening to the other side and considering why they feel the necessity to protest for their livelihood.

Commuters themselves would do well to consider the downsides of these new e-jeeps, such as a hike in fare, potentially up to 20 pesos, and a lack in available transport due to a reduction in active jeepney operators. And while new e-jeeps might bring modernity to public transportation, it comes at the cost of the jeepney operator’s livelihood affected by the high entry point for a new vehicle with potentially very little in returns.

Such is the clash of modernization and tradition, for change cannot happen overnight, yet one must question what it may bring.

Modernization, even on a scale as simple as transport, must occur in order to fix this country’s problems rooted through years of ignorance and ears turned deaf. Yet how can modernization occur if such aforementioned problems are not addressed, if the government continues to impose a solution without considering its negative effects, if the public demands change and modernity but disregards the damage carelessly implementing such things could leave in its wake?

It is a paradox in and of itself, a paradox wrapped in red tape and apathy.

Yet paradoxes do not necessarily remain unsolvable. Perhaps with empathy and progressive reforms, there is hope for the change and modernity we clamor for, one which will finally benefit all sides.


Jeepney drivers, modernization is not a war

by Mary Nicole Datlangin

The Philippine jeepney has long outdated us, starting production in the 1940’s post-war era. Dubbed as the “king of the road”, it has grown to become the most ubiquitous mode of transportation for Filipino commuters, and a symbol of national culture and art.

However, if not rehabilitated, it is also a curse. Jeepnies have been notorious for their unsoundness and their tendency to worsen traffic congestion and air pollution.

Today, on October 16, transport groups took to the streets to protest against the government’s long-planned public utility vehicle (PUV) modernization program. The program was launched this year to improve safety and efficiency in commuting, while reducing carbon emissions through the replacement of current engines with environmentally-compliant ones.

Why the protest, then?

I beg to disagree with them.

First of all, the price (both the literal and figurative amount) to pay for the improved quality of transportation vehicles will be worth every peso with the coming of the next few years.

Consider the state of the typical jeepney. Think of the neglected safety issues that come with the thousands of commutes each day. The smoke that causes most, if not everyone, to put a hand up to cover their noses. Is this the state we are satisfied with?

For the LTFRB not to push through with the modernization program would be a manifestation of their irresponsibility in not providing decent ways for the public to travel. For jeepney drivers and transport groups to oppose it would compromise their efficiency in doing their job, should they continue using their current dilapidated vehicles.

“But it’s too expensive!” drivers cry out. Because of the 1.5 billion financial assistance from the government, they’ll have to pay an amortization fee each day to account for the new vehicles. With this ‘hulugan’ system, though, the Department of Transportation has already given a statement explicitly saying the modernization program is not “anti-poor”.

Apart from this, drivers will actually be given monthly salaries and benefits — reduced working hours, government-sponsored training programs, and their new vehicles will be equipped with GPS and CCTVs.

This program has been overdue for far too long.

This is not the first time that jeepney upgrading has been raised. During the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, an LPG conversion program was launched, also in an effort to reduce carbon emissions by converting diesel fuel to LPG. Still, most jeepnies to this day use diesel fuel.

It’s undeniable that the Philippine transportation system is pathetic. The government has been working on other projects to change this, like several railway extension projects, yet nothing is to happen if the public won’t contribute more.

Even so, drivers argue, “But we’re not benefiting from this — only commuters and the managing private corporations are.”

If the promise of monthly salaries and benefits was not enough to prove my point, note that the modernization program is for the gain of all. This is in terms of healthcare, in environmental protection, transportation standards, and even in employment. After all, the production of new vehicles in local manufacturing companies will open up new jobs for many.

It’s not about who gets more than who, it’s about seeing how everyone, in the long run, will no longer have to sit in cramped, humid vehicles that belch smoke every minute. The so-called “king of the road” will stay in reign, although it will be different compared to its present state.

We must stop looking at this issue as a driver-versus-the-rest-of-the-world war. With modernization comes much change. Resisting it will be detrimental to the country and to the people within it.

Before taking to the streets to take sides in transport strikes in Manila, or Cebu, or Davao, we have to ask ourselves: Are we really satisfied with the kind of commute we go through each day?

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