MANILA, Philippines – Transport Secretary Manuel Roxas III earned the ire of leaders of Monday's transport strike after he tagged the protest action as “perwisyo" (a nuisance).
During a brief meeting at a protest site in Cubao, Quezon City, Roxas told Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño and PISTON secretary-general George San Mateo that the Aquino government is doing everything to ease the burden of jeepney drivers over rising fuel prices.
He said the government is reviewing the books of oil companies and investigating possible connivance among the "Big 3" in pricing oil products.
Roxas defended the value added tax (VAT) on oil products, which is being criticized by transport groups. He said the VAT on oil is helping the government fund its basic services.
Casiño, however, said the government already slashed the budget for the government’s basic services, particularly for the health sector.
"Ang problema nga natin sa budget next year, bawas yung proposal ng mga hospital natin at mga health centers, binawasan ng kalahati ng Department of Budget and Management," Casino said.
Roxas replied: “Sa palagay ko nasa budget process yan. Kaya tayo may Kongreso dun pinagdedebatihan yan. Hindi dito sa kalye na nagiging perwisyo sa mga naghahanapbuhay.”
Casino felt offended by Roxas' comment and said the government should not blame the jeepney drivers for the strike.
“Ang perwisyo dito yung mga kumpanya ng langis. Huwag natin ibabaling yung sisi sa overpricing sa mga tsuper. Sana naman ang gobyerno maging patas na wag lang yung tsuper ang pinagi-initan.," he said.
Roxas said the debate on the fuel price hikes should not be used for mere politicking.
“Kinikilala ng gobyerno ang karapatan ng mamamayan na ihayag ang kanilang saloobin, pero perwisyo ito,” Roxas said.
"Habang binibigyan ang bawat isa na ihayag ang kanilang saloobin, may karapatan din naman ang mga may nais na magtrabaho na makarating sila.”
San Mateo was also disappointed over Roxas’ statement.
He said Roxas seemed to have turned his back on the people he once fought for in various protest actions during the time of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“Dati nag-rarally tayo dito laban kay GMA. Ibig mo bang sabihin nag-rarally tayo laban kay GMA kasama ka pa namin, perwisyo tayo noon?” San Mateo told Roxas.
Nevertheless, San Mateo said he is still thankful that Roxas met with them.
He also claimed that the protest actions were successful, citing high turnouts from PISTON members all over the country.
San Mateo said the protest is set to end at 5 p.m. In an interview with dzMM, however, he said he expects some drivers not to resume their operations after a day of protest. – with dzMM; ANC