Jeepney drivers cry discrimination, urge SC to nullify mass transport ban issuances

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 29 2020 06:39 PM | Updated as of Sep 29 2020 08:05 PM

Representatives of the National Confederation of Transportworkers’ Union (NCTU) hold a creative protest calling for “Balik Pasadang Ligtas!” outside the Supreme Court in Manila, Tuesday. The group of jeepney drivers filed a petition asking the government to allow the return of jeepney operation in Metro Manila even as COVID-19 quarantine measures remain in place. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) – Deprived of livelihood during the months-long mass transit ban, a confederation of transport workers and several jeepney drivers asked the Supreme Court on Tuesday to nullify several mass transport ban issuances that, they said, deny them of their right to work while other public utility vehicles have resumed operations.

The National Confederation of Transportworkers’ Union (NCTU) and 17 drivers filed on Tuesday a petition challenging memorandum circulars issued by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) as well as guidelines from the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).

The IATF guidelines imposed quarantine protocols, while DOTr and LTFRB issuances regulated which types of mass transportation can operate under existing protocols.

The petitioners said the 3 agencies did not have the authority to impose the mass transit ban because it is a police power that can only be exercised by Congress, unless validly delegated.

They claimed these government agencies unreasonably confiscated their right to work when they “failed to establish a causal connection between the prohibition and the mitigation of the effects of the pandemic.”

They also accused the government agencies of discriminating against jeepney drivers and operators.

“When Respondents gradually allowed public transportation to operate, traditional PUJs were singled out without sufficient basis and without effort on the part of Respondents to inform traditional PUJ drivers of the fact of and the rationale of the discrimination,” they said in their petition as they invoked the equal protection clause.

Jeepneys were among the modes of public transportation suspended upon the implementation of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in March. While 64,000 public utility vehicles including buses have resumed operations, only about 13,000 out of the 55,000 PUJ units have been allowed to ply certain routes as of August.

“There is also uncertainty as to what standards were followed in choosing which among the traditional PUJs were to be allowed to ply the roads. The decision-making process of Respondents is thus patently whimsical and infringed Petitioner’s right to due process,” they added.

The group slammed the government for its preference for modernized jeepneys despite research showing modern jeepneys are not safer than traditional jeepneys.

“If we were to base safety from COVID-19 with the passenger capacity of the vehicle, traditional jeepneys should not have been excluded or placed last in bringing back public transportation… As a matter of fact, riding a traditional PUJ is even safer compared to a modernized PUJ because the former needs no conductor to operate, which is not the case for the latter,” they argued.

Petitioners also invoked such international treaties as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) guaranteeing their right to work and to an adequate standard of living.

Named as respondents in the petition are Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles as heads of IATF, Martin Delgra III as LTFRB chair, and Transport Secretary Art Tugade.

Jeepney driver Ernesto Cruz, NCTU president, was among those who joined the filing before the Supreme Court and held a placard of a jeepney calling for resumption of safe jeepney operations.

“Sino ba ang may karapatan na talagang magbigay ng utos para hindi pabiyahiin ang iba, at yung iba naman pabiyahiin?… Gaya sa amin, mahigit singkwenta porsyento ang hanggang sa ngayon, hindi pa nakakapasada,” he told reporters during the filing, speaking on behalf of more than 1,200 members.

(Who has the right to authorize some to operate and deny the others the same? In our case, more than fifty percent of our members still could not drive their jeepneys.)

One of them, young driver Jeff Vergel Jimenez, could not hold back his tears as he spoke about the challenge of raising a family of 5 with a new-born baby during the six-month lockdown.

“Hindi na po kami makakain nang maayos… Ang hirap po namin ngayon. Grabe na po talaga paghihirap namin,” he said, explaining that he had to rely on odd jobs to get by.

(We cannot have decent meals... Life is so hard now.)

But even then, he could not afford to pay the lease for the apartment he is renting and feared they might be kicked out of their place. He said they are prepared to sleep on parked jeepneys just to find a place to stay.

SENIOR CITIZEN QUESTIONS QUARANTINE PROTOCOLS

But jeepney drivers are not the only ones feeling the pinch of the quarantine protocols.

Senior citizen Eugenio Insigne filed a petition also on Tuesday for declaratory relief, asking the high court to declare various IATF issuances void and to issue a temporary restraining order to stop their implementation.

In particular, Insigne complained against travel restrictions on senior citizens who are not allowed to go out while quarantine protocols are in place.

He claimed confinement of senior citizens inside the house violated their rights to due process, freedom of choice, self-determination, and equal protection, invoking even international treaties.

He warned of “severe negative mental and psychological impact of [the] quarantine,” claiming that the “cure is worse than the problem.”

“They confine us at home; to await our death,” he said in his rant-filled petition.

“Restore our freedom; give back our lives; let senior citizens enjoy their retirement,” he asked the high court.

NEW TESTS

The 2 petitions are the latest to challenge measures taken by Philippine authorities to address the coronavirus pandemic.

Two previous petitions – one questioning the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act and quarantine measures, and the other urging free mass COVID-19 testing – were dismissed outright by the SC, without requiring comment from respondents.

The court, however, had previously ruled it does not have original jurisdiction over petitions for declaratory relief and has declared a policy of not entertaining petitions that require determination of factual issues.

The Philippines has been on lockdown since mid-March, one of the longest in the world.

Despite this, the country continues to record thousands of COVID-19 infections a day, with 2,025 new cases on Tuesday taking the total to more than 309,000 cases, with over 5,000 deaths.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday extended Metro Manila’s General Community Quarantine status until end of October.