THE nationwide transport strike organized by transport groups was also felt, in a way, in the streets of Cagayan de Oro. Almost all day, there were only very few public utility jeepneys (PUJs) available for commuters, however, the number of taxi units, motorela and private vehicles were almost the same as it was just a usual Monday.

Also on that same day, multi-sectoral progressive groups have organized a peace caravan, which is said to be staged all throughout in Mindanao, and in Cagayan de Oro, it was held inside the Iglesia Filipina Independiente in Pacana Street. The caravan is in support for the continuation of peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, along with its affiliates, the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People's Army.

On that program, Ringo Lago, Solidarity of Transport in Northern Mindanao-Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Starex-Piston), was present to also air his group’s concerns in the transport sector as well as the reason behind the staged transport strike.

The main reason for the strike, it appears, is their group’s opposition towards the so-called “modernization” methods that would end up phasing out old units of PUJs that has been running for at least 15 years. There is no problem with the “modernization,” per se, but the notion of phasing out units that will lead to the unemployment of PUJ drivers and operators.

The phaseout plan came out last year as an Administrative Order from the defunct Department of Transportation and Communications, which is now the Department of Transportation. But, with the proposal pending in Congress, the House Bill Number 4334 or Traffic Crisis Act of 2016, the “phase out plan” has said to resurfaced again in the name of “modernization.”

A quick look at the bill, Section 2, paragraph (d), indicated that one of the bill's policy is to "reform, modernize, and streamline the mass transportation systems to the end of attaining sustainable, organized, predictable, accessible and safe networks of public transportation.” However, the bill, if passed into law, will be implemented to Metro Manila areas, including Metropolitan Cebu and Davao.

Nevertheless, Lago claimed that it is unfair for the measures of modernization to only include on the public transport sector when there are more privately-owned vehicles than the PUJs. He also cited a research from Ibon Foundation that the “environmental hazards” only comprised a small percentage, at around 1 to 10 percent, of which was contributed by the public transport sector than the private and commercialized transports.

Double checking Lago’s claims, surfing through the online database from Ibon Foundation appeared to be slippery, since there were no similar studies I found, thus I attempted to contact the organization and hoping for a feedback as of this writing.

There was actually a research I have found if environmental hazards means the carbon dioxide emissions made by vehicles were the main scope.

In the study presented at the 17th Annual Conference of the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines in 2009, the PUJs only placed third in the projected growth of motor vehicles in the Philippines, with an estimate of less than 5,000 in 2005, and estimate of more than 30,000 units in 2035. The top two were heavy and light commercial vehicles, respectively.

Despite this, PUJs only placed four in the projected carbon dioxide emissions, with only less than 20 million tons in 2005 to 60 million tons in 2035. The top three were heavy commercial vehicles, buses, and light commercial vehicles, respectively.

The authors of the research, Herbert Fabian and Sudhir Gota of Clean Air Initiative-Asia Center, suggested that recent estimates of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and particulate (PM) emissions in the Philippines show that in 2008, emissions of CO2 totaled 30 million tons and 56 thousand tons of particulate matter. In addition, they said that CO2 emissions from the transport sector accounted for 38 per cent of the total from fuel combustion in 2000.

“If the business-as-usual scenario prevails, the number of motorized vehicles will double before 2020,” as their research suggested.

These are the things we mere mortals were unable to comprehend at times. The PUJs may be a minor contributor to environmental hazards in terms of air pollution but if you gather the data collectively it is a grave threat not only in the environment but public health.

Now here comes public policies that are supposed to regulate in reducing, if not totally eradicating this looming problem, however, doing so can be detrimental to some groups whose bread and butter rely heavily on the transport sectors.

In societies, critical balancing acts are made. Compromise is necessary, but opening the minds to consider sustainable developments are also a need.

(nefluczon@gmail.com)