MANILA - A transport leader on Friday described as harassment a proposal to file economic sabotage charges against a group of jeepney operators and drivers who staged a 2-day protest this week.
Speaking to radio DZMM, PISTON President George San Mateo noted it was the government that suspended classes and government work to "minimize the burden" of the strike last Monday and Tuesday.
"Ine-expect na namin na gagawin yan ng gobyerno bilang, tawag nga namin, harassment. Kumbaga ang layunin niyan (ay) i-prevent kami na ipagtanggol yung aming karapatan, ating democratic right, yung ating karapatan sa kabuhayan na ginagawa naman namin sa mapayapang paraan at naaayon sa ating Saligang-Batas," he said.
(We are expecting that the government will do that as, what we call harassment. That aims to prevent us from defending our rights, our democratic rights, our right to livelihood which we are doing in a peaceful way, in accordance with the Constitution.)
"Siyempre, tao rin naman ako. Nababahala din ako dun. Siyempre, estado yung nagfa-file sa’yo. Tapos mabigat yung finile: economic sabotage. Fina-file mo lang yun sa mga terorista," he added.
(I am only human, of course I am alarmed. Of course, it's the state that's filing charges against me, and the charges are heavy: economic sabotage. You only file that against terrorists.)
Although alarmed by it, San Mateo said he does not have the luxury of time to be scared of the possible charges because the livelihood of thousands of jeepney operators and drivers is on the line.
The transport group claimed 90 percent of jeepney drivers in Metro Manila participated in their protest against the government's jeepney modernization program.
The strike was not without criticisms, and one of the complainants, noted San Mateo, was the Philippine Stock Exchange, which was forced shut on Monday after work in the government was suspended.
A newspaper report said PSE director Vivian Locsin reportedly texted Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade: "Piston should be charged with economic sabotage. Imagine us losing business today. Change their old jeeps. That’s good for environment."
In his reply, Tugade described the transport group as "selfish and small minded," adding that "change is hard but must be done."
But San Mateo said the government only declared the cancellation of classes and government work, excluding the private sector.
"Bakit naman nagrereklamo itong Philippine Stock Exchange? Ang trading naman nila ay mga pribadong kompanya, so paano naman sila naapektuhan?" he said.
(Why should the Philippine Stock Exchange complain? Their trading is among private companies, so why should they be affected?)
"Siyempre, may usapang legal na yan, pero siyempre ang usapang moral dito, ang nakataya dito kaya kami nag-strike, yung kabuhayan ng daan-daang libong driver at operator," he added.
(That involves legal talks, but of course morally, what's at stake here, why we protested, is the livelihood of thousands of drivers and operators.)
Responding to criticism from other parties affected by the strike and subsequent school and government work suspension, San Mateo said the decision of Malacañang was a "unilateral action" and was not a product of an actual paralysis in the roads.
He also warned that jeepney operators and drivers may stage a bigger protest if President Rodrigo Duterte makes true of his threat to have drivers current jeepneys arrested if they don't modernize their units by year-end.
"Sana maunawaan ng ating mga kababayan yun kasi last resort talaga yan. Wala na kaming choice pag ginawa yun. Hindi naman naming pwedeng hayaang babatakin yung mga jeep namin. Mga pinuhunan yan," he said.
(Hopefully, the people will understand that this is the last resort. We have no other choice if they do that. We would not allow that our jeepneys be towed; we invested in those.)
Although enraged by the President's pronouncement, the group said it is not closing its doors to holding a dialogue with Duterte.
"Pag yan ang nagtawag makipag-usap, siyempre haharapin namin yan kasi wala nang mas mataas pa. Ang wish lang namin, wag lang kaming babastusin ni Presidente. Siyempre, pag tayo naman sumisigaw sa rally, ang sinisigaw natin yung issue; wala namang magmumura kay Presidente sa rally," he said.
(If he calls for a meeting to talk, of course we would face him because there's no higher authority than him. Our only wish is that he behaves courteously. When we shout at rallies, we express our issues; we don't curse at the President.)