The harrowing experiences of ‘consolidated’ jeepney operators

The harrowing experiences of ‘consolidated’ jeepney operators
The electronic jeepney has become a common means of public transportation in Bacolod City. —PHOTO FROM PNA.GOV.PH

In February 2017, the Philippine government ratified the Paris Agreement, embedding its principles of reducing carbon emissions into national policy. To support the country’s Nationally Determined Contributions to the decarbonization initiative, the Department of Transportation (DOTr), along with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), introduced the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) in June 2017 through Department Order No. 2017-011. 

This program seeks to replace jeepneys and other PUVs over 15 years old with modern vehicles that meet Euro-4 emission standards or run on LPG, electricity, or hybrid systems. It also mandates the consolidation of individual franchises into a single franchise via the organization of cooperatives or corporations.

Transport groups led by Piston, or the Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide, have strongly opposed the PUVMP since its inception. Their actions, along with the Covid-19 pandemic, led to multiple deadline extensions for operators and drivers of traditional jeepneys to consolidate their individual franchises. The initial transition deadline of June 30, 2020, was extended to March 31, 2021, then to March 31, 2022, and finally to March 31, 2023.

In 2023, continued resistance from Piston, Manibela, and other transport groups as well as increasing protests involving transport workers, commuters, and mobility organizations prompted President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to pledge a program review, which did not materialize. The franchise consolidation deadline was shifted to June 30, 2023, and subsequent actions led to further extensions, ultimately reaching April 30, 2024. Operators failing to meet the consolidation deadline by April 30, 2024, risked franchise revocation, barring them from operating traditional jeepneys or PUVs, which will then be considered unauthorized or “colorum.”

Just transition. In December 2023, amid growing opposition, the DOTr issued DO No. 2023-022 renaming the PUVMP as the Public Transport Modernization Program (PTMP) and ensuring “just transition for all.” 

But “just transition” is not just about moving away from carbon dependency but also about eliminating systemic inequalities. It emphasizes that the transition must address both the climate crisis and existing social disparities. Since its inclusion in the Paris Agreement in 2015, “just transition” has become a common theme in climate discussions at all levels. But its widespread adoption risks misuse, as governments and corporations may coopt it for greenwashing or present it in ways that neglect social inequalities.

Silencing. Piston reports that jeepney operators who joined the modernization program fear speaking out lest they be expelled from their cooperative or corporation and their livelihood jeopardized. Its anecdotal evidence indicates that members of a consolidated transport service entity (TSE) seeking transparency or questioning management are often threatened with removal. TSEs are also barred from participating in protests against the modernization program. The LTFRB enforces a strict “no-strike” policy under its MC No. 2011-004, which considers any protest action that inconveniences passengers as a violation of the franchise terms.

The experience of Philip Burata and his group of jeepney operators in Bacolod City, who joined Choret Corp., exposes hidden challenges and injustices in the PTMP implementation. Choret, a transport corporation that was created for the modernization program, holds certificates of public convenience (CPCs) for 4 out of 24 routes in Bacolod. Burata has represented his group in hearings conducted by the House of Representatives’ committee on transportation to highlight these issues. Still, they say, injustices persist.

Traditional jeepney operators in Bacolod have opposed the phaseout even before the launch of the modernization program. As of May 2024, only 27% of traditional jeepneys in Bacolod had consolidated their franchises, leaving 73% (1,734 out of 2,313) vulnerable to apprehension; and risking the welfare of more than 30,000 individuals whose livelihoods are dependent on the traditional jeepney industry.

Forced consolidation. Jeepney operators felt compelled to join the program. They chose to join TSEs (such as Choret Corp.) with awarded CPCs and routes, which provided a quicker, more certain path to secure their operations. Independent applications for franchise consolidation posed risks, they say, as there was no guarantee of being awarded a CPC and route, especially if other applicants were deemed more qualified.

Jeepney operators forced to consolidate did so without proper training or guidance from the government. The focus of the PTMP implementers, as pointed out by jeepney operators, is on pushing individual operators to surrender their franchises and consolidate, without providing them the necessary support to navigate the complexities of forming and operating within a TSE. Effective functioning as a collective requires time and guidance to prevent operators from being misled, deceived, or exploited, and to ensure they understand how to operate effectively as a collective entity.

The pressure to meet the franchise consolidation deadline forced operators to make hasty decisions. Without proper support from PTMP implementers, operators were made more vulnerable to exploitation. For example, Philip Burata and his group believed they were part of the Choret Corp.  But after checking with the Securities and Exchange Commission, they discovered they were neither incorporators nor members. Burata and his group assigned their individual franchises and registered their modern PUVs with Choret Corp. They financed 44 modern PUVs through the Land Bank of the Philippines. But Choret Corp. claimed that they were merely employees, not owners of the units.

In December 2023, Choret Corp. charged four of the members of Burata’s group with 38 counts of carnapping under the Anti-Carnapping Act when the group asserted their claim to the vehicles. While 38 modern PUVs remained with the group, 6 were taken by the corporation.

When jeepney operators, like Burata and his group, raised their concerns, the LTFRB RFRO Region 6 dismissed these as “internal disputes” to be resolved within the transport corporation. This absolves the government of responsibility, despite the fact that it was the PTMP implementers who forced operators to consolidate in the first place.

Financial burdens. The PTMP forces operators like Burata and his group to bear significant financial burdens by compelling them to purchase numerous expensive modern PUVs often imported from foreign manufacturers, particularly China. As of April 2024, 34 out of 59 compliant models listed in the DOTr catalog are from China, averaging P2,697,812.50 each. 

Operators face high maintenance costs and challenges in replacing parts of modern PUVs. They have raised concerns with the air-conditioning units that often malfunction. These add to their expenses. According to Burata, the maintenance cost for a single air-conditioning compressor may reach P68,000. Moreover, use of air conditioning also leads to increased fuel consumption instead of reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Unlike traditional jeepneys, which can be easily serviced with locally sourced parts, modern PUVs needing replacement parts are often saddled with delays in acquisition, resulting in increased downtime and financial strain. 

Operators are anxious about the potential shift to electric PUVs before they can even recoup their investment in modern PUVs compliant with Euro-4 emission standards. The DOTr’s proposed guidelines for electric vehicles, pursuant to the Electric Vehicle Industry Development Act, indicate a move towards electric mobility. Consultations conducted by the DOTR PTMP National Program Management Office in May 2024 highlight this transition. Operators fear that their Euro-4 compliant PUVs may become obsolete sooner than expected, adding to their uncertainty and financial risk.

Loss of community and culture. Franchise consolidation disrupts long-standing connections within specific routes and among jeepney operators and drivers. There is also a significant cultural loss, as traditional jeepneys, iconic in the Philippines and a source of national pride, are phased out. PUVs were originally developed to address public transportation gaps and have become integral to Filipino heritage.

There is a glaring absence of justice for marginalized stakeholders, whose grievances have been persistently ignored despite their efforts to comply with the program requirements. The costs and risks imposed on them vastly outweigh their resources.

The current PTMP implementation, as evidenced in the case of Burata and his group, prioritizes expedient technological solutions over ensuring justice in the transition to decarbonized public transport systems. Government agencies must act swiftly to rectify these injustices, including suspending and thoroughly reviewing the program. Beyond mere token inclusion of justice-oriented language in guidelines, it is imperative that tangible justice is prioritized and experienced by the most vulnerable stakeholders affected by the transition.

This article is a summary of Rafael Dimalanta and Allan Morales’ discussion paper for the University of the Philippines’ Center for Integrative Studies, where Dimalanta is a researcher at the Program on Alternative Development.

Read more: Needed: a just transition for jeepney drivers and operators

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