MANILA – Malacañang on Wednesday said the government remains open to a dialogue on the public utility vehicle (PUV) modernization program even as President Rodrigo Duterte already gave an ultimatum for jeepney drivers and operators to comply with the government’s policy to replace old jeepneys.
“Government is open to a more healthy dialogue, discussion and responsible engagements with transport groups that wish to learn and contribute to the development of the PUV Modernization Program,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a statement.
“This is a wide window of opportunity for everyone -- drivers, the operators, the riding public. The public needs to discern that some ideological influences can derail the greater good. Let us move forward towards the comfortable life that [President Rodrigo Duterte] is fighting for," he said.
Abella said the government’s firm stand to implement the program “underscores the national leadership's strong political will and decisive stance to initiate reform in the public transportation sector.”
In a speech Tuesday, Duterte stood firm on enforcing the jeepney modernization program, saying this was long overdue and needed to protect the public’s health and ensure safety on the roads.
The government’s plan to replace all jeepneys at least 15 years old by 2020 has been strongly opposed by several jeepney drivers and operators who say they will be buried in debt if forced to comply. New jeepney units cost more than P1 million each.
On Monday and Tuesday, transport group Piston mounted a nationwide strike to protest the program, forcing government to suspend classes and government work.
This caught the President's attention, issuing a threat to require the replacement of all jeepney units by next year, earlier than what the government had planned.
The Department of Transportation, meanwhile, has said the jeepney modernization program is not anti-poor, noting the government’s loan scheme for drivers and operators and a subsidy worth P80,000.
PISTON president George San Mateo said Duterte's threat was unrealistic as it would take time to replace the 240,000 jeepneys across the archipelago.
While the government has offered programs to help jeepney owners replace their old vehicles, Mateo said the redesigned jeepney is too expensive, adding that ownership schemes would displace small operators.
He said it was Duterte who had challenged them to stage a transport strike, resulting in their two-day protest.
"He is arrogant, anti-poor," said San Mateo.
Despite threats to arrest jeepney operators, San Mateo warned of a bigger transport strike if Duterte pushes through with his plan.
"We have no choice but to fight back," he said. – with a report from Agence France-Presse