Jeepney drivers, senior citizens challenge govt’s COVID-19 policy before SC
MANILA, Philippines — Invoking the right to be treated fairly and equitably, two sectors of society challenged before the Supreme Court the government’s policy in its fight against COVID-19.
In two separate petitions, the group of traditional jeepney drivers and senior citizens invoked their human rights: for the jeepney drivers to live a dignified life, particularly the right to work and have an adequate standard of living; for the senior citizens, they want to have the inherent right to life, dignity and the integrity which are protected by the law.
Petitioner, former National Commission of Indigenous Peoples chair Eugenio Insigne asked the high court to stop President Rodrigo Duterte and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases from implementing its quarantine measure against senior citizens calling it “cruel and insensitive.”
He said the government admitted that strict quarantine protocol for the youth and senior citizens is to protect the healthy members of the population which the petitioner said is “unacceptable, ridiculous and illegal.”
“They were deprived of their right to due process without any consultation; their freedom of choice ignored; their liberty arbitrarily taken away,” petitioner said.
“Quarantine negatively impacts senior citizens more severely. This is because they only have a few more years to live. They should be enjoying the remaining days of their lives; possible only if they have freedom and possess all their human rights,” read their petition.
Meanwhile, jeepney drivers from the National Confederation of Transport Workers’ Union (NCTU) decried the government’s continued discrimination against traditional jeepneys and for giving preference to modernized jeepneys in gradually allowing public utility vehicles (PUVs) back on the road as the government eased quarantine measures.
Aside from the IATF-EID, named respondents in the petition were the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and Department of Transportation (DOTr).
“Their decision left jeepney drivers behind. Many are going hungry; many are affected,” they said.
While the IATF-EID, which was created through Executive Order (E.O.) No. 168 s. 2014, was given the power to implement effective quarantine and proper isolation procedures, the petitioners said it was not given the authority to suspend public transportation or impose nationwide quarantines.
On the other hand, they said DOTr is vested only with administrative power over transportation, while the only with quasi-judicial functions related to land transportation.
“The Respondents arbitrarily and unreasonably confiscated petitioners’ right to work. Deprived of a substantial means of livelihood, the Petitioners were unable to earn income for themselves and for their families. Respondents failed to establish a causal connection between the prohibition and the mitigation of the effects of the pandemic, making the measure unreasonable,” the petitioners said.
They explained that the issuances of the IATF-EID, LTFRB, and DOTr were arbitrary because they lacked a legal basis.
“When respondents gradually allowed public transportation to operate, traditional PUJs were singled out without sufficient basis and without effort on the part of Respondents to inform traditional PUJ drivers of the fact of and the rationale of the discrimination,” the petitioners said
“There is also uncertainty as to what standards were followed in choosing which among the traditional PUJs were to be allowed to ply the roads. The decision-making process of Respondents is thus patently whimsical and infringed Petitioners’ right to due process,” they added.
Petitioners want the high court to nullify 14 issuances from LTFRB and the DOTr guideline dated May 29, 2020. The issuances refer to the suspension of public transport and guidelines on who will be allowed the ply the streets subject to certain requirements.
The petition comes in after six months of drivers’ unheeded calls to get back on the road.
The petitioners are also asking the Court to conduct oral arguments on the petition. [ac]
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