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Lawyers’ group decry arrest of San Mateo

By: - Reporter / @jovicyeeINQ
/ 08:18 AM December 06, 2017

George San Mateo (foreground, center) walks to freedom after being released by the Quezon City police on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. San Mateo, president of transport group Piston, was arrested earlier in the day for leading a jeepney strike in February. The LTFRB said the strike burdened the riding public and violated the franchise given to members of Piston. PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER / GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) slammed the police’s “high-handedness” on Tuesday when it prevented militant transport leader George San Mateo from posting bail, a move that shocked even a jeepney group that has been supportive of the government’s modernization program.

Edre Olalia, NUPL president, said that San Mateo should have been accorded “equitable application of the law,” especially that he was already on his way to surrender and post bail for the “relatively petty harassment suit” filed against him by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

“The arrest—despite pleas for reason and common sense—shows the high-handedness of our police who discriminates between the rich and powerful and the poor and exploited. The message is clear: the well-coiffed are different from the ‘scrungy’ in the eyes of the law,” Olalia told the Inquirer.

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He noted that while a warrant of arrest was already issued against San Mateo, precedent showed that the leader of transport group Piston should have been given the chance to post the P4,000 bail, especially that he was already on his way to voluntarily surrender himself in court.

Last month, former President Benigno Aquino III posted bail five hours after his cases for usurpation of authority and graft were raffled off to the Sandiganbayan’s Third Division. Aquino said then that he immediately posted bail since he was “briefed that if the information is filed, an arrest warrant is automatically issued.”

In September, the LTFRB filed a case against San Mateo for violating Commonwealth Act No. 146, or the Public Service Act, for his leading of a strike against the jeepney modernization program in February.

The Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office found probable cause to charge San Mateo last Oct. 30. On Dec. 1, the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 43 ordered San Mateo’s arrest, three days after he announced that his group would again mount a two-day nationwide strike.

Olalia pointed out that it could be argued that the prohibition on drivers to hold strikes was unconstitutional as it trumped on one’s right to peaceably assemble and air grievances to the government.

He noted that since Sen. Grace Poe would be leading a hearing on the modernization program on Monday, it might also be a good venue to discuss amendments to the “antiquated” transport law.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) has repeatedly pointed out though that a franchise is a privilege given by government to which one “agrees to be bound by the conditions of such and the consequences in case of violation.”

“You can do protest actions, but you must follow the law. You can do protest actions, but you must give importance to the benefit of the majority. That’s the essence of democracy,” Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said in a statement.

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Fejodap president Zenaida Maranan said that while they were supportive of the modernization program, San Mateo’s arrest had a chilling effect on them.

“Who would not be scared? It’s nerve-racking,” Maranan told the Inquirer in Filipino.

She added that though the government was doing “what it thinks is right,” they still pitied San Mateo since he was also part of the jeepney industry.

Maranan pointed out that though their group did not oppose the modernization program, there were still issues that the government should address in its implementation.

Among these are the creation of cooperatives and the route rationalization plan. She noted that to date they had yet to be assisted by the DOTr on how they could form and maintain cooperatives, especially that it was not their core competency.

She added that the route rationalization plan, which is the prerequisite for the release of new franchises, had yet to be finalized, a concern that San Mateo also raised. According to Maranan, this plan is also a priority for them since this would help them determine how much a driver can earn. /cbb

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TAGS: Commonwealth Act No. 146, Edre Olalia, George San Mateo, jeepney, jeepney modernization, LTFRB, National Union of People's Lawyers, news, NUPL, Piston, Public Service Act, Quezon City Prosecutors’ Office, Sandiganbayan
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