𝑩𝒚 𝑨𝒓𝒊𝒂𝒏𝒏𝒆 𝑲𝒊𝒎 𝑪𝒐𝒍𝒍𝒆, 𝑨𝒔𝒔𝒐𝒄𝒊𝒂𝒕𝒆 𝑬𝒅𝒊𝒕𝒐𝒓
Scratches on the steering wheels, rusted frames, and deflated foams on the seats reveal the time-tested hardship of Public Utility Jeepney (PUJ) operators who are currently pushed towards the modernization project of the government without ample means to suddenly cope with the requirements.
On the frontline of local news channels in the Philippines right now are the people who, instead of sitting in their usual spot on a jeepney’s driver seats, are on the road holding placards demanding a reconsideration of the government’s Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP).
This plan about the Philippine jeepneys may, unfortunately, send its drivers on a one-way path to debt and starvation—a scenario that was further worsened as a result of the pandemic that forced them to cease operations for months.
Under the Marcos regime, Filipinos fear that their lives will be at risk of intimidation or violence. Right now, this is indeed manifesting as a massacre of franchises held by individual operators is putting a toll of problems for them.
On the lens of the men behind the wheels
Nelson Sabucor, a jeepney driver whose usual route is Legazpi to Polangui and vice versa, shares his sentiments on the jeepney phaseout and modernization.
"Di ako pabor ta pawno kaya mahihirapan kami kaiyan, maghihirap. Pangalawa, kulang na naman ang sasakyan, mahihirapan ang mga commuter,” Sabucor said when asked whether or not he is in favor of the aforementioned program.
He further said that he will be participating in the nationwide strike stating that he is willing to sacrifice a few days of his livelihood to let the government know that he is against modernization and the phase-out of their livelihood.
Also, another jeepney driver of over a decade, who names himself as “Win”, says that he too is against the aforementioned government project saying,
“Dae man po ngamin makaya makabakal ning sarong unit; Tapos ngunyan ngane gipit na, pawno pa makabakal bago.”In his face, the worry was painted together with a sigh of disbelief as he continually tried to explain how unfair the program is.
On the ride towards the fight for even judgment on the situation, the concern about jeepney modernization and phase-out is an issue not limited to jeepney operators alone. Commuters, who are the main beneficiaries of this type of vehicle, are also in distress.
“Maganda ang hangarin ng jeepney modernization program ngunit kaakibat nito ay matinding pasakit sa mga jeepney drivers lalo na yung mga walang kapasidad bumili mga bagong unit, dahil rito, hindi ako pabor sa napipintong implementasyon ng deadline sa traditional jeepney phase-out,”Cherry Mae Dacoro, a regular commuter and a daughter of a jeepney driver, said.
She further stated that the subsidy offered by the government is not enough to cover the P2.2-2.4 million worth of each modern jeepney unit, imposing an excessive burden on the operators.
“Jeepney driver ang papa ko at nakikita ko ang proseso ng pag-buo at pag-apply nila ng kooperatiba. Mahirap at maraming proseso ang pinagdaraanan bago ma-recognize ng Cooperative Development Authority. Over-worked rin masyado ang mga employee ng isang kooperatiba gawa ng modernisasyong ito,“ she added.
Towards an attainable track
Both jeepney operators and commuters are distraught, which currently leads to the nationwide strike expected on March 6-12, 2023.
Although the ongoing nationwide strike clearly exhibits the operators' frustration and disgust, it also subtly brings attention to their hopes that the government will actually carry out its duty of serving the people, which can be done not by hastily putting up a program with obvious flaws sprouting everywhere, but rather by showing empathy for the people.
While a vision to modernize is not bad as it aims to drastically reduce dangerous vehicle emissions, actualizing it in a manner that does not consider all perspective is a move wrongly done.
Sometimes, too much focus on the future leaves holes in the present that would further disrupt the progress being sought.
Scratched parts, foams sank on seats, and frames tested by time reveal the day-to-day perseverance of jeepney drivers to earn their living in a dignified manner. As the “King of the Road” continues to roam around the Philippine streets, the hope lingers that the envisioned upgrade shall be done with a plan that would not be anti-poor and is well-thought-of.
Until then, it will be a bumpy journey for operators and commuters alike.