Piston going it alone
The militant Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston) will push through with its planned strike next week, claiming that the dialogue with President Benigno Aquino III had failed to address the transport sector’s problems.
However, the Piston strike is expected to be less potent as other transport groups have backed out of the planned joint protest action.
Piston has scheduled its nationwide protests for Monday, Sept. 19, aimed at pressuring the government to impose regulations on the oil industry, among other demands.
“We did not get any guarantee from the President that he will do something about high fuel prices,” said Piston secretary general George San Mateo.
The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) warned operators and drivers against joining the transport strike, although LTFRB board member Manuel Iway said the agency would impose penalties only if transport routes are paralyzed.
Earlier this month, Piston, with Pasang Masda, the Alliance of Concerned Transport Operators (Acto) and the Federation of Jeepney Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines (Fejodap), had announced plans for a joint protest.
The threat came after successive hikes in the prices of petroleum products, particularly of diesel fuel, which most public utility vehicles use. Piston has blamed the Oil Deregulation Law for the unabated increases. It has also called for the removal of value-added taxes on petroleum products.
On Wednesday, the transport leaders were able to ventilate their concerns before President Aquino. Following the meeting with Mr. Aquino, Acto, Fejodap and Pasang Masda backed out of the planned protests, but Piston said it still had the support of the smaller groups.
“I respect the decision of the other transport groups. That’s their right,” San Mateo said.
Reviewing dereg law
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte on Thursday said Mr. Aquino had ordered concerned agencies to review the Oil Deregulation law.
Energy undersecretary Jose Layug said the President had also instructed officials to implement the fuel subsidy for jeepney operators from the balance of the P300 million earlier allocated for the program to help transport groups cope with the new round of price increases.
However, Malacañang failed to give any definite timeline for these reviews, San Mateo said.
Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas, who was at the Palace meeting, said he had ordered the LTFRB to review the insurance policy guidelines for public transport operators.
One concrete step that can help jeepney operators and drivers is the lowering of their insurance premiums while expanding their insurance coverage at the same time, Roxas said.
At present, operators of public utility vehicles pay almost P1,000 for annual coverage.
Roxas ordered LTFRB chair Jaime Jacob to review the existing monopoly structure and find ways to ensure prompt payment of claims, with lower premiums, higher coverage and better service.
Under the present LTFRB Passenger Personal Accident Insurance Program, which expired on Thursday, PUVs can only get insurance from two LTFRB-accredited insurance groups—Passenger Accident Management Insurance for registration of odd-numbered plates and by Unitrans for even-numbered plates.
But with the expiration of the five-year accreditation program on Thursday, the government would now open accreditation to more players, including management companies representing insurance groups, said Jacob.
Meanwhile, Malacañang on Thursday said it was ready for any transport strike, warning that the government would take appropriate action against those violating the conditions of their franchises.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda questioned why Piston decided to push through with the strike when San Mateo had taken part in Wednesday’s dialog with Mr. Aquino and had even made suggestions.
He said the dialog was “warm and cordial” and reiterated a Palace statement the other day that none of the transport leaders had raised the issue of the transport strike.
Lacierda took issue with the interview that San Mateo gave after the dialog, and denied the latter’s claim that Mr. Aquino had merely responded “noted” to the concerns raised by transport groups.
Still, he said the government was prepared to deal with the Piston strike and warned those taking part that they will have to deal with the consequences.
“There are consequences. You are responsible. You have rights and obligations in the franchise that you hold,” Lacierda said. With Christine Avendaño
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