MANILA — Jeepneys are safe and should be allowed to operate even during the pandemic, a group of doctors said Wednesday.
“We believe that there is no scientific or medical basis for the banning of traditional jeepneys and they should immediately be allowed to provide transportation to the Filipino public,” said the doctors, who are part of Second Opinion, an initiative of health professionals that aim to serve as an alternative voice on COVID-19 issues.
“To date, neither the Inter-Agency Task Force nor the Department of Transportation has provided any scientific or medical explanation or evidence for the decision to ban jeepneys, which has led to the further impoverishment of thousands of families and to hardships for commuters, including frontliners,” said the joint statement signed by Dr. Gene Nisperos, Dr. Geneve Rivera-Reyes, Dr. Darby Santiago, Dr. Sean Velchez, Dr. Leonard Javier, and Dr. Soraya Escandor.
Nisperos, who is a a professor at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, has been among those vocal against the supposed “militaristic” approach of the government’s COVID-19 response.
As COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila and nearby provinces continued to rise, the government heeded the call of doctors to enforce stricter quarantine measures. This also resulted in jeepney drivers again losing their source of income.
Nisperos and the other doctors said the government’s decisions on public transportation “have been largely arbitrary and even go against the grain of the World Health Organization advisories on reducing the risk of transmission of COVID-19.”
They questioned the use of modern jeepneys and point-to-point buses that “are small, contained spaces with limited ventilation (due to their air-conditioning),” saying they are “high-risk situations.”
They also pointed out inconsistencies in the decisions pertaining to tricycles and motorcycles.
“In contrast, traditional jeepneys, with their specific body built (e.g. large windows, entrance without doors), are much better ventilated and allow for better free flow of air," the physicians said.
"With proper physical distancing of passengers, these become more spacious. Taken together, these minimize the risk of transmission,” they added.
Among the improvements made by already cash-strapped jeepney drivers were the installation of plastic barriers between passengers.
The doctors said international guidelines such as that of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the International Association of Public Transportation (UITP) can be applied to jeepneys to further reduce the risk of transmission.
They said that the decision to ban jeepneys is mainly from the planned Transportation Modernization and Jeepney Phase-out that was derailed due to strong public opinion.
“Once more, rather than provide medical solutions for the pandemic, the Duterte government has used the situation to further impose its political and economic agenda,” the group said.
Essential public transportation service should not be “sacrificed by unwarranted and arbitrary restrictions,” which will only affect transportation workers and the riding public, they said.
The doctors said the government should also consider the return of provincial buses and other modes of public transportation.