Bacolod transport groups may seek legal action vs jeepney phaseout  

(Glazyl Y. Masculino/file photo)

By Gerome Dalipe IV

Unfazed by the deadline set by the government for them to consolidate, transport groups in Negros Occidental said that “contingency plans” are in place to ensure that the livelihood of their members will not be hampered.

The contingency plans even include seeking available legal remedies against the government’s Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP), Junjun Asis, secretary-general of Sentrong Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operators (SSTONE), told Daily Guardian.

The modernization program is not a law, so anybody can question its legality,” said Asis in Hiligaynon.

He issued such a statement when sought for his reaction on the preparation of his group to the deadline set by the government for them to consolidate into a transport cooperative or corporation.

Asis, in an interview, said that their group had long studied available legal actions on the legality of the modernization program, including the application of a temporary restraining order in court, if necessary.

“Our lawyers have gathered all the needed documents and evidence on this issue. We are just waiting for the outcome after the Dec. 31 deadline,” said Asis.

However, Asis stressed that resorting to legal action would be their last resort. He said the transport groups in Bacolod City are in good hands because Mayor Albee Benitez has assured them of assistance after the consolidation deadline on Dec. 31, 2023.

Asis said that Mayor Benitez assured the affected traditional jeepney drivers totaling 1,896 to assist them so they could continue with their livelihood.

He said that they are not, per se, against the modernization program of the government. “What we are against are the people implementing the systems of the program,” he lamented.

Beth Katalbas, Federation of Bacolod City Drivers Associations (Febacda) president, echoed Asis’ statement.

Katalbas said Mayor Benitez met with various transport group leaders in Bacolod City on various occasions before the consolidation deadline on Dec. 31.

She said the mayor allayed the fears of the traditional jeepney drivers that they might lose their livelihood and assured them that they would continue with operations.

The mayor encouraged the transport groups to participate in the modernization program by consolidating their units into transport cooperatives.

Katalbas also slammed officials of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB)-Western Visayas for not assisting them during the early stage of the program.

“Wala gid na sila pulos dira,” Katalbas lamented, adding that they are not against the modernization program.

She said that some components of the program are disadvantageous to the transport cooperatives such as forcing the cooperative to avail of the modern units.

Katalbas said that modern jeepney units would go up to P2.8-million, thus would be a burden to the transport cooperatives despite the government’s promised subsidy of P160,000.

The LTFRB-6 said a total of 2,509 PUJ units in Western Visayas have not yet been consolidated.

Bacolod City has the highest number of unconsolidated PUJs, with 1,439, followed by Iloilo City with 406, Negros Occidental with 244, and Iloilo province with 232 jeepneys.

“Collectively in Antique, Capiz, Kalibo, and Guimaras, there are 188 that are yet to be consolidated,” said lawyer Salvador “Jun” Altura, LTFRB-6 hearing officer.

Last Dec. 12, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announced that the deadline for the consolidation of public utility vehicles on Dec. 31, 2023, will not be extended.

Marcos claimed that 70 percent of all operators in the country have already consolidated under the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program.

“We cannot let the minority cause further delays, affecting the majority of our operators, banks, financial institutions, and the public at large,” said Marcos.

The consolidation is one of the components of the PUV modernization program. Jeepney operators who fail to meet the consolidation deadline will lose their franchise, and thus will be barred from plying their routes.

The LTFRB-6 said that being a member of an existing transport cooperative or applying for consolidation will be a requirement for vehicle registration with the Land Transportation Office LTO next year.

Under the PUV Modernization Program, drivers will become salaried employees of their transport cooperatives with mandatory government benefits such as the Social Security System, Pag-Ibig, and PhilHealth.

Launched on June 19, 2017, the PUV Modernization Program, a flagship program of the Duterte administration which envisions a restructured, modern, well-managed, and environmentally sustainable transport sector where drivers and operators have stable, sufficient, and dignified livelihoods while commuters get to their destinations quickly, safely and comfortably.

It aims to replace diesel-powered jeepneys with at least a Euro 4-compliant engine to reduce pollution. The government originally set a June 30, 2023 deadline, but was later extended until the end of this year.

The PUV Modernization Program also aims to enhance the system that will entirely change the public land transportation industry. It features a regulatory reform and sets new guidelines for the issuance of franchises for road-based public transport services.