MANILA, Philippines – Senators doubted whether transport officials were truly prepared to implement the public utility vehicle (PUV) modernization program and planned consolidation of jeepneys, citing lack of route rationalization plans and financial support for affected jeepney operators.
“Since the issues of the PUVMP are the same since 2017, then it is fair to say that little has changed. The LTFRB has been pumping the gas, but they keep going around in circles,” Senator Grace Poe said during a Senate hearing on Thursday, March 2.
Under the PUV modernization program, individual jeepney operators are required to consolidate into cooperatives or corporations – or else they will lose their provisional authority to operate. The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) recently extended the consolidation deadline from June 30 to December 31, 2023, yielding to the sentiments of transport groups, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista, and even President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
However, Poe said that extended deadlines would still fail if the LTFRB itself was not ready, particularly with its planned route rationalization for jeepneys.
“Para sa akin, dapat open-ended. Huwag na muna ninyo bigyan ng deadline (For me, it should be open-ended. Don’t give a deadline just yet).Thank you, at least you’re making an effort, inextend ninyo. Pampapogi lang ‘yun e. Hindi pa talaga kayo ready by December if you haven’t even complied by more than 10% (you extended it. But that’s just to make you look good. You won’t really be ready by December if you haven’t even complied by more than 10%),” said Senator Grace Poe, who chaired the hearing on the modernization program for jeepneys.
Senator Joel Villanueva pointed out that only around 8.8% of route plans have been approved, or 139 local public transport route plans (LRTRP) out of an expected 1,575 LRTRPs across all local government units.
The LRTRP is a rationalized route plan prepared by local government units that detail route networks, modes, and the required number of units per mode to deliver public land transport services.
“Basically, hindi ko alam if minove na natin from June to December ‘yung phasing out, pero with 8.8%, hindi ko alam, madam chair, kung anong gagawin natin doon,” Villanueva said.
(We moved the phaseout from June to December, but with 8.8%, I don’t know what we can do with that, madam chair.)
During the hearing, senators said that operators would be the ones hit by the lack of route rationalization plans because they need the LRTRPs to get a loan and ply their routes.
A representative from the Development Bank of the Philippines also confirmed that only transport cooperatives or corporations with an LRTRP can avail of loans for modern jeepneys, which can cost up to P2.8 million. So far, the state-run bank only handed out loans to103 cooperatives and corporations.
“Bakit pinipilit ang vehicle replacement kung hilaw pa ang ibang parte ng programa? Nasaan na ang komprehensibong plano para sa route rationalization?” Poe said.
(Why are we forcing vehicle replacements when we haven’t fleshed out other parts of the program yet? Where’s the comprehensive plan for the route rationalization?)
Transportation Undersecretary for Road Transport and Infrastructure Mark Pastor agreed that the LTFRB struggled with coordinating route rationalization plans with the various local government units.
“It’s very political. Totoo po ‘yun (It’s true). There are LGUs that are not really interested po to push for a rationalized route because probably there are interests that might be involved,” he said.
Some leaders of transport groups also opposed the idea of consolidation – at least, in its current formulation.
Under the current LTFRB memorandum circular, operators must give up their individual franchises and consolidate into either a cooperative or corporation. Were jeepney operators to consolidate into a cooperative, they would eventually need to purchase 15 modern jeepneys, costing up to P2.8 million each.
Surrendering their individual franchises and taking on millions in debt could put many individual jeepney operators at risk of being phased out according to Manibela national president Mar Valbuena.
“Kahit anong deadline po yung ibigay natin, sa dulo, phase out pa rin po (Whatever deadline you set, in the end, we’re still being phased out),” he told senators during the hearing.
While leaders of other cooperatives did share that consolidation allowed them to operate more efficiently and also modernize their fleet, Valbuena countered that not all operators are fortunate enough to have viable routes.
Senators also agreed that transport executives lacked concrete social support programs for traditional jeepney operators who might find themselves phased out because of the consolidation requirement.
“Will they be absorbed into another line of work, or thank you note na lang ba ang matatanggap sa gobyerno, kung meron man (will all they receive from the government is a thank you note, if even that)?” Poe said.
In protest of the lingering issues, Valbuena said that transport groups will be pushing through with their weeklong strike starting March 6.
LTFRB chairman Teofilo Guadiz III asserted that the agency was “ready for next week,” assuring commuters that they would not feel any gaps. He said that the LTFRB has also coordinated with the Philippine National Police and local government units to ensure peace and order next week.
However, transport officials also expressed a willingness to revise parts of the PUV modernization program.
In response to calls to preserve the appearance of traditional jeepneys, Guadiz also said that they could consider revising the Philippine national standard covering the dimensions and specifications of jeepneys.
“We are willing to bend backwards, suggesting to the board of LTFRB to relax the requirements to enable drivers to adopt to the program,” Bautista said in a press statement on Thursday.
He said that he even offered to dialogue with drivers associations that were dissatisfied with the PUV modernization program.
However, Bautista emphasized that consolidation remains as one of the most important components of the modernization program. After consolidation, the next step would be route modernization, followed by aligning operations to follow schedules.
But first, Bautista said that jeepneys had to be consolidated.
“Kailangan magkaroon ng deadline. Hindi pwedeng maging open-ended ang deadline,” Bautista said during the Senate hearing. “Hindi po namin maiimplement itong ating PUV modernization program if we don’t impose deadlines.”
(We have to set a deadline. We cannot have an open-ended deadline. We won’t be able to implement the PUV modernization program if we don’t impose deadlines.) – Rappler.com
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