Cagayan De Oro City

‘Climate of fear’ stops drivers from protesting fuel-price hikes in Cagayan de Oro

Bobby Lagsa
‘Climate of fear’ stops drivers from protesting fuel-price hikes in Cagayan de Oro

REFUEL. A motorist fuels at a gas station in uptown Cagayan de Oro City where the pump prices average P60 a liter on Tuesday, October 12.

Bobby Lagsa/Rappler

National Confederation of Transport Unions regional coordinator Joel Gabatan says the government failed to help the public transportation sector cope with rising fuel prices amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Many jeepney drivers in Cagayan de Oro have opted to stop driving and look for other work because they have given up hopes that the government would help them by cushioning the impact of spiraling fuel prices amid the pandemic and the economic crisis it has created.

The National Confederation of Transport Unions (NCTU) in northern Mindanao on Tuesday, October 12, said the situation was aggravated by the climate of fear that effectively repressed dissent, and street demonstrations that, until five years ago, provided the public transportation sector a venue to express grievances.

Joel Gabatan, NCTU regional coordinator, said they have stopped staging rallies in Cagayan de Oro because of the red-tagging of organizers and those supporting street demonstrations.

“The climate of fear is real. Anyone who dares speak up and protest risks being accused of being a communist rebel. This climate has contributed to the unchecked fuel-price increases.” Gabatan told Rappler.

He added, “There are no more activists on the streets of Cagayan de Oro who openly urge the government to act on their complaints. People are afraid. If we say we are going on strike, people get scared.”

He said even organizers of past public transportation strikes in the city themselves have stopped communicating with each other for fear of repercussions.

Gabatan said organized jeepney drivers in the city recently asked that they be allowed to offer contracted services so they could augment their incomes.

“When their request to be allowed to resort to service contracting was denied, they said they might as well stop driving. That was their way of saying that they were in a silent protest,” he said.

Gabatan said the government failed to help the public transportation sector cope with the skyrocketing fuel prices amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The government has turned a blind eye, and it has been deaf. There is no help in sight,” he said.

Gabatan said his group was not keen on seeking fare increases because that would hurt the pockets of commuters who were also struggling to cope with the crisis.

But the NCTU said the government should intervene and prevent fuel prices from spiraling.

The group also reiterated calls for the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to allow traditional public transportation drivers to engage in service contracting.

He said the LTFRB made the service-contracting scheme exclusive to those driving newer vehicles registered under public transport cooperatives.

“If jeepney drivers are allowed to do this, then many would return and drive again,” Gabatan said.

Taxi driver Abdulla Amrok said he was struggling to cope with increasing fuel prices in a situation when fewer people were taking taxis.

The average gasoline prices in Cagayan de Oro were at nearly P60 per liter. In uptown Cagayan de Oro, some gas stations sell gasoline for over P60 per liter.

“The prices are always rising. If ever there is a price rollback, it’s only by a few centavos. But whenever there is an increase, it’s almost always more than P1 for every liter,” Amrok complained.

Telesburo Miral, another taxi driver, said he just paid P600 for fuel enough for 80 kilometers of travel.

“I still don’t have money to pay the taxi rent, and I don’t know if I will be able to go home with some earnings and food for my family tonight,” Miral said. -Rappler.com