Commuters left to fend for themselves again as Mega Manila reverts to MECQ

Majority of businesses will still operate while public transportation is banned under the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), leaving commuters to fend for themselves yet again.

Metro Manila and neighboring provinces Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal will be under MECQ from August 4 to 18, after medical professionals warned that the country's health sector was on the brink of collapse.

Public transportation is banned under MECQ. Only private vehicles, shuttle services, and active transport are allowed.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) said it will continue giving out free rides but only for healthcare workers. The Office of the Vice President will also revive a similar program for frontliners.

But for ordinary commuters going to work, the DOTr placed the burden on the ailing private sector, echoing previous issuances that employers should provide shuttle services for their workers.

"Naka-focus ang efforts ng DOTr sa pagbibigay ng free ride para sa mga healthcare workers and medical frontliners.… Sa MECQ before, responsibility talaga ng companies to provide shuttle services to their employees," said Transportation Assistant Secretary Goddes Libiran, adding they provide free rides for repatriates.

(DOTr's efforts are focused on providing free rides to healthcare workers and medical frontliners. Before, under MECQ, it's really the responsibility of companies to provide shuttle services to their employees.)

Lawyer Sonny Matula of the Nagkaisa Labor Coalition and Federation of Free Workers said that some unions were able to negotiate free shuttle services for their employers. However, workers from smaller firms were not as fortunate.

"Problem is with small companies. Some use bikes or motorcycles to work. Others had no choice but to walk," Matula told Rappler in a mix of English and Filipino.

When Metro Manila was under MECQ in mid-May, labor groups had asked the government to lift the transportation ban as businesses started opening up. Business groups had also said that not all firms would be able to provide shuttle services for their employees – an admission which the labor department had acknowledged in the past.

Even under general community quarantine (GCQ), commuters had to endure long lines as quarantine protocols require public utility vehicles (PUVs) and railway systems to run at half its capacity.

"They can always raise their concern to the IATF through the NTF. Pag-uusapan naman 'yan. (That could be discussed.) Whatever their decision will be, susunod lang ang DOTr (the DOTr will just follow)," Libiran said.

Hire PUVs as shuttle services

The Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) on Monday, August 3, urged private firms to hire PUVs as shuttle services, adding that these already have special permits.

LTFRB Metro Manila Director Zona Tamayo told reporters in a media interview that the special permits given to PUVs during the GCQ would be extended during the period of the modified lockdown. In this case, they won't have to apply for permits anymore.

Tamayo added that shuttle services are allowed to cross the capital region's boundaries and go to nearby provinces, as long as workers who are residents of those provinces bring documents that prove their residency.

For those who might get stranded on the road on Tuesday, August 4, it appeared that the government has yet to firm up plans for a free ride program.

Libiran said that the DOTr "will inquire" of other agencies' plans, as in the past, military trucks and police cabs were used to provide free rides, among others. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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