Who won the March 19 transport strike?

Rambo Talabong
Who won the March 19 transport strike?
Despite an exchange of statements, the government and transport group Piston have not moved closer to a consensus

MANILA, Philippines – Once again, there were two opposite assessments of the transport strike launched Monday, March 19. 

Like the proverbial half-empty or half-full glass of water, the Philippine government and transportation group Piston gave differing evaluations on the protest action. 

Led by the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston), the strike was held to urge the government to junk its jeepney modernization program, which the transport group branded as anti-poor. (IN PHOTOS: ‘Listen to us!’ – Piston to gov’t)

The strike was a blunder according to the government: In separate statements, Malacañang and the Inter-Agency Council on Traffic (iACT) called the demonstration “unsuccessful” and a “failure” after apparently failing to paralyze transportation in the country’s capital region.

What Malacañang said:

“If and when Piston pushes through with its threat to continue its nationwide strike, despite its unsuccessful staging today, we will call for a class suspension in Metro Manila starting tomorrow, March 20 until Friday, March 23,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.

What I-ACT said:

“It really is a failure if you have negative basis as a success, meaning that there are people stranded,” I-ACT spokeswoman Aileen Lizada told Rappler in a text message.

According to the iACT, there were only 1,900 commuters stranded on Monday and they were helped out by government vehicles. Lizada said 1,900 was an insignificant number as these only comprised 0.0475% of the estimated 4 million commuters in Metro Manila every day.

In related statement, the Philippine National Police National Capital Region (NCR) Police Office said that the strike had “not affected the normal situation within the NCR.”

It was a success for Piston: Piston president George San Mateo celebrated their strike as 90% of their drivers in Metro Manila stopped driving for the day.

San Mateo pointed out that Malacañang still saw it necessary to suspend classes in Metro Manila starting 2 pm on Monday, while multiple schools called classes off for the day.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) also lifted its metro-wide coding scheme so that more commuters can board their private vehicles.

It was so successful, San Mateo said, that they are eyeing to launch another strike this summer, the date of which is yet to be announced.

Who won? Despite the dramatic statements, the government and Piston have not moved closer to reaching a consensus.

The government is pushing through with its jeepney modernization program, regardless of Piston’s demonstrations.

“We, however, remain committed to modernize our public utility vehicles. We see this as one of the long-term solutions to decongest our streets with dilapidated and smoke-belching jeepneys,” the rest of the Malacañang statement read. (READ: Duterte’s EDSA traffic: Data say it’s faster, drivers say nothing’s changed)

Meanwhile, Piston remained steadfast to its demand to junk the modernization program. It seems the group will stay true to its vow to continue holding strikes until President Rodrigo Duterte grants them an audience.

“We condemn the modernization because we will lose our jobs. The truth is that we already had a dialogue with the authorities but they don’t talk to us properly, maybe because they’re really focused on the phase-out,” Piston vice president Ruel Obligar told Rappler on Monday.

How much longer must the commuting public endure these series of strikes and school/work cancellations before the two sides find a win-win solution?  – with a report by Abigail Abigan/Rappler.com

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.