Church, rights body push for ‘inclusive, just transition’ of jeepney modernization as phaseout deadline looms

Church, rights body push for ‘inclusive, just transition’ of jeepney modernization as phaseout deadline looms

CHURCH officials and the Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines have called on the national government for a “just and inclusive approach” to the country’s transport modernization program as the deadline for the January 31 phaseout of the iconic jeepney is drawing nearer.

“We urge the government to ensure a just transition that protects the livelihoods of jeepney operators and drivers, who are the backbone of our transportation system, while also laying the groundwork for a more efficient, interconnected, and cost-effective mass transport network that benefits all,” said Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, the president of the social action arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

“We welcome the government’s commitment to improve public transportation. However, we cannot condone a modernization process that disregards the human cost,” added Bagaforo in his public statement on January 8.

Over the weekend, transport groups Manibela and Piston announced they would hold another nationwide transport strike on January 16, as jeepneys that did not join the consolidation under the government’s Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) will be identified as unregistered or "colorum" starting February 1 this year.

Once the jeepneys are tagged as unregistered, their franchise will be revoked and they cannot legally drive their vehicles on the road.

Consolidating jeepney drivers and operators allows them to form cooperatives, as the first step in the modernization phase.

In his Facebook Live on January 14, Manibela chairman Mar Valbuena said at least 10,000 PUV drivers and operators, along with different cause-oriented groups, will join them in the protest in the capital Manila.

Bagaforo, the head of Caritas Philippines, maintained that the affected families of the drivers and operators “are not just statistics; they are our neighbors, our brothers and sisters.”

“We cannot let them fall through the cracks during this transition,” the bishop said.

As he urged President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s administration to provide livelihood and skills development assistance to the displaced drivers, Bagaforo said that the government should invest in local jeepney manufacturers.

“We have brilliant Filipino engineers and entrepreneurs who are developing innovative solutions for clean transportation. Let’s support them and create a future where our public transport is not only efficient but also sustainable,” the bishop said.

Meanwhile, CHR, the government’s rights body, reacted to the modernization program, saying: "It is the State's responsibility to efficiently subsidize the program, develop an effective communication strategy for the general public, and make PUVMP rules more understandable.”

The commission also warned that “adhering strictly to rigid consolidation deadlines may jeopardize PUV operators’ right to a sustainable livelihood.”

“Given the economic and financial implications of PUVMP, the majority of the program’s financial burden will fall on drivers and operators. It is worth noting that the vast majority of PUV operators are from the vulnerable sector,” the CHR said in its Jan. 12 statement.

Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc. (PMPI), a social development and advocacy network of more than 250 church faith-based groups and non-governmental organizations in the country, also said that while they acknowledged the need to rehabilitate the country’s public vehicles for clean air and better service, it maintained that the jeepney modernization program “should not be implemented in a way that violates the economic rights and dignity of the jeepney drivers and operators.”

“No one should be left behind on the path to progress,” PMPI added in its Jan. 11 statement posted on its website.

Manibela reported that about 30,000 jeepneys in Metro Manila alone have not been consolidated.

Villanueva hoped that the Supreme Court would also heed their appeal and issue a temporary relief against the looming jeepney phaseout.

“We are asking President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and the Supreme Court to listen to our demand. We are appealing that our franchise should not be taken from us and that we should not be declared colorum on Feb 1. Why are you keen on taking away our livelihood?” Villanueva asked on his social media page.

Piston national president Mody Floranda earlier hit the national government’s “heartlessness for pressing modernization amid worsening economic woes.”

“Hundreds of thousands of citizens are affected, will lose their livelihoods, will be buried in debt or will have serious problems with additional expenses. No matter how you look at it, this bogus modernization brings nothing good to the people, Floranda said in his December 29, 2023, statement, shortly after they filed their initial petition at the Supreme Court before the modernization program’s franchise consolidation deadline on December 31 last year.

However, the government extended the deadline for the unconsolidated jeepneys until January 31, 2024.

Jeepneys, the most popular means of public transportation in the country, were originally built from U.S. military jeeps left over from World War II.


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