Don’t push jeepney phaseout during pandemic, but help drivers modernize – Robredo
MANILA, Philippines — Any plan to phase out old jeepneys should not be pushed now as drivers are already struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vice President Leni Robredo said on Sunday.
Robredo explained that reports of fast-tracking modernization plans would only put more pressure on jeepney drivers while benefiting the rich who could afford such improvements.
“If you would insist on modernization, which people cannot do at this time, and you would not allow them to work, then you are favoring the people who already have them [modernized jeepneys]. Those who have none would be on the losing end. What we should do is to help those who have none, so that they could catch up,” Robredo said in Filipino in her weekly AM radio program, “BISErbisyong Leni.”
“I hope the news that they are taking the opportunity [to phase out jeepney] is not true. Again, we don’t have no opposition against modernization — in fact that is good — but we should listen to the plea of drivers to make the procedure easier for them so that they could comply,” she added.
The Vice President made her statements after the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) announced that modern jeepneys would be allowed to operate again starting on Monday, June 22, within 15 initial routes, with the easing up of quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila.
But for traditional jeepneys, their operation would have to wait for some time — although LTFRB Chairman Martin Delgra assured commuters that these jeepneys, along with UV Express vehicles, would not be removed and might start operating again by the end of June.
Modernized jeepneys are being prioritized because their older counterparts are on the lower end of the hierarchy of public transport modes, as they are believed to pose a great risk of coronavirus transmission with their passengers seated close to each other.
Robredo defended jeepney drivers, saying that most of them would no oppose modernization — only if they could have the means to buy modern jeepneys.
“What about jeepney drivers who are struggling to pay for the installment of their jeepneys? Others have not even completed their payments, then you would do this… It’s like stepping on people who have already fallen down,” she said.
According to a study made by think-tank group Ibon Foundation, which Robredo cited, jeepney drivers have already lost P78,000 of their income since the lockdown started in March, or around P26,000 per month.
In contrast, the government has given drivers monetary aid worth P8,000 under the Social Amelioration Program — not even half of their possible monthly earnings, Robredo stressed.
The insistence of the government to restrict traditional jeepney operations has forced some drivers and operators to protest these policies. In one such protest in Caloocan City, six members of transport group Piston were arrested.
Of the six arrested drivers, two tested positive for the coronavirus, which they presume to they had contracted while in detention.
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