Senator Ralph Recto made a stand for “classic jeepneys,” saying they should be allowed a “last patrol” before they are completely phased out by the government’s jeepney modernization program.
“They once helped liberate us from invaders. Today, let us allow them to help us fight this virus which has colonized our daily lives,” the Senate president pro tempore said on Thursday, September 17.
Jeepneys originated from repurposed Jeep vehicles left behind by US troops in the Philippines after World War II – and after the Philippines gained independence from the American colonizers.
But Recto’s appeal for jeepneys is not born out of nostalgia, he said, but of sound pragmatism.
“We do this not for sentimental reasons, but because it is based on science. With their open windows and a layout which guarantees free flow of air, they are, from a health point of view, one of the safest forms of public transportation,” Recto said in a statement.
It’s a pity that the government has allowed only one-third of jeepneys in Metro Manila to ply their routes during the pandemic, the lawmaker added.
“For every jeepney denied to operate are hundreds of breadwinners denied a safe ride to work and back home,” Recto said.
Jeepney drivers have, on their own, reconfigured their vehicles to comply with health safety rules like physical distancing, and barriers indicating where passengers may sit at an ample distance from one another.
“They are good to go,” Recto quipped.
He suggested putting jeepney drivers “first in line” for the government’s “service contracting” scheme under the Bayanihan to Recover as One law, which allocated P5.58 billion for temporary livelihood for displaced transport workers. Of this amount, P3 billion is specifically allotted to jeepney drivers.
“This kind of transport subsidy is nothing new. Billions in taxpayers’ money has been lubricating MRT (Metro Rail Transit) and PNR (Philippine National Railways) operations through the years,” Recto said.
Transportation can be a tool in the “test, trace, and treat” strategy in quelling the pandemic, but people should only be allowed to resume work “if it is guaranteed that COVID-19 will not be hitching a ride.”
“Hanapbuhay, hindi hanap-sakit (Livelihood, not fodder for illness),” Recto added.
The senator commented on the Department of Transportation’s directive to reduce social distancing on public transport, first from one meter to 0.75 meter, then eventually to half a meter, and then to a third of a meter.
The government suspended the move on Thursday, after President Rodrigo Duterte joined a list of officials opposing it due to concerns about public health safety.
“Let science be the arbiter of this intra-Cabinet debate, which we should welcome, because best ideas are forged when they clash,” he said, a nod to the health and interior departments' insistence on maintaining the full meter-long physical distance.
“Science should solely decide if the proposal, when applied to the LRT and MRT, will make them safe, or as dangerous as the 'Train to Busan,'” said Recto, referencing the popular horror film about an outbreak of an infection that turned people into zombies – onboard a train to the South Korean city of Busan.
The government has faced criticism for policies aimed at striking a balance between strict public health safety and resuscitating the economy strangled by lockdowns owing to the pandemic.
In reducing social distancing aboard public transport, the government hoped to encourage increased economic activity. Health experts and ordinary citizens panned the move. The Department of Health cautioned the public to maintain at least a meter’s distance from one another as much as possible.
Now, mandatory one-meter social distancing in public, including public transport, is back in force until Duterte gives his final word on the matter.
“On how we observe the new normal in traveling, let science be the main pilot, and economy the co-pilot. The two should complement and not contravene each other,” Recto said. – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.