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TIMELINE: After 5 months, UST sets refund scheme

At the onset of the community quarantine, the University vowed to refund the unused school fees of their students, three months after the May 6 memorandum released by the Secretary-General.

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Fernardine Hernandez/TomasinoWeb

At the onset of the community quarantine, the University vowed to refund the unused school fees of their students, three months after the May 6 memorandum released by the Secretary-General.

In between class suspension and the memorandum, there were collective efforts from students, parents, and various organizations for the immediate release of an updated table of fees and refund system, varying from letters of appeal, online petitions, to social media campaigns. 

Here are what transpired during those five months:

March 9 – Manila Mayor Isko Moreno halted face-to-face classes after the Department of Health reported four new cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), pushing the total number of cases in the country to 10. 

March 15 – Manila was placed under a community quarantine following the order of President Rodrigo Duterte, due to the continuous rise of confirmed COVID-19 cases, especially in the city capital. 

March 19 – The Central Student Council (CSC), along with Local Student Councils, submitted a request to suspend online classes amid the concerns of the students with internet connectivity and mental well-being.

April 11 – League of Filipino Students UST initiated an online petition that immediately garnered more than 11,400 signatures. The petition outlined a four-point demand which focused on guaranteeing the stakeholders’ “well-being, livelihood, and democratic rights.”

April 17 – CSC wrote a letter which sought to either mass promote students and end the semester or to freeze the remaining term. 

April 20 – Then newly incumbent Very. Rev. Rector Fr. Richard Ang, O.P. responded by saying that the University must “allow learning to succeed” and assured Thomasians of a refund on a “per class basis” due to the suspension of classes. 

“We wish for you to earn that ‘moral and spiritual certificate’ that says, ‘I fought COVID-19 in the education front and I defeated it!’” Rector Ang said, which drew flak from students on social media.

“We understand that the shift to online learning has added financial implications, not only for [the students] but to the immediate family,” he added. “The amount may either be given back in cash or may be credited in the succeeding enrolment.”

May 26 – Rector Ang released a new letter announcing the implementation of the “Enriched Virtual Mode,” which would make use of blended learning, both synchronous and asynchronous, for the first term of the Academic Year (AY) 2020-2021. 

The letter mentioned the extension of financial assistance to students by renewing existing scholarships, as well as implementing no tuition increase and flexible, staggered payment schemes. 

June 6 – The interim CSC President Robert Dominic Gonzales said in a tweet that two letters were already sent to the Office of the Vice-Rector for Finance, demanding updates on the refund.

Aside from the details of the refund scheme, the letters, which were also undersigned by local student councils, inquired on the adjusted table of fees as new AY shifts fully to virtual mode. 

“Upon seeing the released schedule of fees for the freshmen students, there were still portions of the ‘miscellaneous’ [and] ‘other’ fees, which the council presidents [and] student body deemed anomalous [and] should have been removed given the proposed online class scheme,” Gonzales said. 

“These concerns were raised because a lot of our fellow students’ families are currently exhausting necessary means for proper allocation of their budget in anticipation of academic spending and other matters,” the letter of appeal further stressed. 

June 13 – The University released its updated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page regarding the fees, enrollment, and refunds, as the pandemic brought office work to a blended mode set-up as well. 

June 18 – Lawyer Emilie Gemanil-Espina, a parent of a student in the University, took to Facebook the alleged “unreasonable” miscellaneous and other fees imposed by the University since classes will be held virtually. 

Espina posted a copy of the letter that she submitted to the University administration. Among the fees which she questioned was the energy fee as there would be “no electronic consumption for the University considering the use of online learning.” 

The University, however, explained in its FAQs page that the energy fee will be used to maintain the air conditioning units and other equipment in the campus. 

Espina contested the laboratory fee, as well as the medical and dental fee. She organized a petition coming from the parents, which has gathered 5,400 signatures, contesting the fees for the AY 2020-2021.

August 14 – The University formally started a new academic year, with the traditional Misa de Apertura held online, in compliance with the government protocols. 

August 28 – In a memorandum from the Office of the Vice-Rector for Finance, the University released the procedure of the refund scheme, with various options on how the students can claim their unused school fees. 

The memo stated that the newly-adjusted schedule of fees suspended medical and dental, energy, cultural, retreat and recollection, sports, and infrastructure development fees. 

Acting Vice-Chancellor for Finance Fr. Roberto Luanzon Jr., O.P. said that additional adjustments on college/program-specific fees are still under review and in consultation with each unit. Fr. Luanzon assured the Thomasians that further clarifications would be announced later. 

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Magtanim ay ‘di biro: Rice Liberalization Law backfires

“What affects the farmers the most is the all-time low prices of their copra and palay and there is nothing else to be blamed for this but the anti-farmers program Rice Tariffication Law and the perpetual negligence of the government towards the agriculture sector.”

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Farmers and militant groups rallying in front Mendiola Gate in Manila on Oct. 21, 2019 | Jaime Taganas/TomasinoWeb

The promise of Rice Liberalization Law (RLL) to aid both the Filipino farmers and consumers falls short as it devastates the palay industry and the livelihood of local rice farmers.

Fifty-eight-year old Dominador Abarcar’s outcry are the lack of irrigation in their farming land and the incessant rice imports which continuously strike heavy blows in the price of his palay.

“Kasi sa dami ng mga [iniimport na bigas dito], naaapektuhan kami dito kasi nako-kontrol yung price ng palay dito sa amin,” the farmer from San Nicolas, Pangasinan told TomasinoWeb in a phone interview.

He said that they were left with no choice but to trade with the buyers in their area from whom they have loans because they needed the money for their livelihood.

“The Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) had to be enacted to liberalize the importation of rice with tariff…allowing the Philippines to limit rice imports for a specific period of time in order to give the Philippines enough time to make our rice farmers competitive,” Senator Cynthia Villar, the primary author of RLL, said in a statement sent to TomasinoWeb.

“The rice farmers will benefit by reducing their production costs, increasing their farm yields, and ultimately raising incomes,” she said.

10-billion pesos, according to Villar, will also be allotted for rice farmers through the creation of Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) under RLL. This includes farm equipment and technology, assistance programs, irrigation projects, and fertilizers.

In addition to RCEF, excess to the tariff collected by the Bureau of Customs from rice importers beyond the 10 billion pesos will be distributed to rice farmers in the form of unconditional cash transfer.

“[Y]ung sa irrigation wala ho eh. Walang nagpopondo sa amin,” Abarcar said when asked about how the local government acts on their irrigation problems.

For him, the adverse effects of RLL which now burden many farmers like him will only be resolved if the entry of imported rice will cease and if the National Food Authority (NFA) will take in charge of the palay trade in the country.

“Ang gusto namin sana totoo yung sinasabi ni Rodrigo Duterte na…wala nang papasok na imported na bigas dito sa amin… na hahawakan na ng NFA yung sa magsasaka,” Abarcar said.

Farmers from Western Samar have also been lamenting over the same absence of government assistance after the devastation brought by El Niño last year.

“Nagpupunta sila doon [sinasabing] tutulungan kaming magsasaka. Tinatanong ko nga isa isa kung ano [ang]  ikaaangat ng mahihirap na magsasaka. Ang sinasabi [nila] bibigyang puhunan para maka-angat naman,” farmer Allan Labong said. “[Hanggang] ngayon hindi pa naman ‘yon dumadating.”

In an official statement released by Stand with Samar-Leyte Network, Eastern Visayas region was once the primary source of copra and palay but now it has been experiencing a decrease in production since 2013 after the onslaught of supertyphoon Yolanda.

“What affects the farmers the most is the all-time low prices of their copra and palay [which] now plummeted at 10 pesos and below [and there] is nothing else to be blamed for this but the anti-farmers program Rice Tariffication Law and the perpetual negligence of the government towards the agriculture sector…” it said.

Agricultural crisis

Research group IBON media said that government’s “long-time neglect and chronically low prioritization” of the agriculture sector gave rise to the agriculture crisis.

“This is in line with government’s advancement of neoliberal policies favoring local and foreign big business. The Duterte government continues this by giving minimal support to the agriculture sector.” IBON said.

Signs that the crisis is worsening, according to IBON, include the declining share in gross domestic product and agricultural productivity per capita, increasing import dependence, rising trade deficit, and widespread rural poverty.

“The agriculture sector’s share in the economy has [shrunken] from over 40% in the 1960s to less than 10% in 2018,” they said.

Reduction of all forms of loans, according to IBON, including amortization for awarded lands, and substantial increase in support and subsidies for the agriculture and agrarian reform sectors are the immediate steps that should be done by the government to alleviate the agriculture crisis.

“It should also suspend, and eventually repeal, policies like the Rice Liberalization Law, that are harming domestic production and farmers’ livelihoods,” they added.

“But to truly strengthen domestic agriculture, [the] government needs to implement long-term policies that prioritize rural development over big business interests.”

‘Man-made calamity’

Civic leaders expressed their resentment and disapproval of the RLL in several interviews with TomasinoWeb during a farmers’ rally in Mendiola last October 2019.

For former representative of Anakpawis party-list and chairman of the farmers militant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, the RLL is a “catastrophic man-made calamity” as it destroys the livelihood of farmers and the agriculture sector in which the country’s staple food is sourced.

“Talagang salot ‘yan, hindi lamang sa kabuhayan ng ating mga magsasaka—pangunahin ‘yon—kung hindi salot ‘yan sa lokal nating produksiyon ng palay, bigas, at pagkaing butil sa bansa, bilang staple food natin ‘yan,” Mariano said.

He also mentioned that the RLL itself violates the constitution: “…Sa 1987 Constitution, malinaw doon na may pertinenteng probisiyon [na] nagtatadhanang ‘the state shall defend the right of a family to a family-living wage and income.’ ‘Di ba labag ‘yon?”

“Sa declaration of principle and state policies na nagsasabi yung Section 19: ‘The state shall develop a self-reliant and independent national economy effectively controlled by Filipinos.’ ‘Di ba labag ‘yang pinirmahan ni Duterte na ‘yan?” he added.

Rice insufficiency

According to IBON, Duterte government has painted a picture that the country can never be rice self-sufficient.

“Rice import dependency ratio declined from 9% in 1990 to 5% in 2016. But this rose to 6.6% in 2017 and is expected to be higher due to the influx of rice imports under the Rice Liberalization Law,” they said.

Villar stated otherwise: “We are not depending on rice imports. The RCEF will enable the 947 rice producing towns to mechanize by giving them machines at the rate of P5B/year where each town shall be receiving P5M a year for the next six years.”

“Filipino rice farmers will become more competitive and the Philippines will become rice sufficient,” she added.

Mariano similarly stressed that if the palay industry dwindles amid a subsequent global food crisis, the local food security will be at risk.

“Hindi tayo dapat umasa sa pandaigdigang pamilihan kasi kahit may dolyar tayo…kung wala ka namang maangkat na bigas—Traditionally itong mga rice exporting countries malaunan niyan, ‘pag tinamaan din itong climate change, bumaba ang kanilang lokal na rice production, so maghihigpit ‘yan at hindi na rin sila mag-eexport ng kanilang bigas,” he said.

IBON maintained that RLL jeopardizes the country’s food security: “The Philippines has now embarked on imports liberalization of its staple – a dangerous path not just for the country’s food security, but more importantly, for that elusive economic development.”

NFA’s road to demise

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Aside from the “drought” in support and subsidy for the farmers, Mariano said the “neoliberal economic policies na liberalization, deregulation, privatization” of the RTL will soon lead to the privatization of the NFA.

Mariano and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Secretary-General Renato Reyes expressed the same sentiments that the RLL should be revoked to regulate again the rice import and called for the strengthening of NFA for it to influence palay price.

“Ang first thing na kailangan gawin is to reverse the decline dun sa livelihood. So tatanggalin mo yung Rice Tariffication Law [at] i-reregulate mo yung import. Puwede magpasa ng legislation that can strengthen the NFA. Increase its budget and its purchasing [capacity] para sa domestic rice producers,” Reyes said.

“Kailangan ng NFA ang 40 billion pesos para at least mabili niya at least yung 10 percent ng total palay production natin sa bansa,” Mariano said.

Mariano explained that there should be a “floor price” in the price of rice and palay to avoid too much fluctuation because there is no reason for the price of local rice to increase.

“Dahil ang rule of thumb diyan, ‘pag bumili ka ng 20 pesos per kilo ng palay, multiplied by 70 percent—‘yon na yung dagdag na cost to produce one kilo of rice—so 14 pesos. Idadagdag mo lang 14 pesos sa 20 pesos, so dapat presyo ng bigas 34 pesos […] may kita na ang retailers. […] Eh magkano presyo ngayon?…38 pesos to 44. Walang dahilan para tumaas yung presyo ng bigas,” he said.

“Kung NFA naman ang bibili no’n, puwede pa rin. Kung well milled rice, binili mo ng locally produced, P20 clean and dry sa magsasaka, so puwede mong ibenta pa rin ng P30 ang release price kung well milled rice, at P25 per kilo kung regular milled rice. May subsidy,” he said. “Yung subsidy na ‘yon ituring na social cost, hindi financial losses para sa NFA,” Mariano said.

Mariano also explained that the privatization of the NFA will limit its operations because its buying of palay will be limited only to its buffer stock or the rice consumption good for 15 to 30 days, and will only serve during emergency situations. In addition, only private businesses will sell rice in the country making it difficult to know the total rice inventory of the country.

Meanwhile, UST Political Science Department Chairperson Asst. Prof. Dennis Coronacion, Ph.D. said that removing NFA will also remove the regulating mechanism or office in the country’s agricultural sector.

“Ang purpose naman kasi ng NFA is to regulate ‘yung market. Probably ‘yung regulation mechanism or office, ‘pag tinanggal mo wala nang magre-regulate. Who else will set the price? You don’t expect the market in setting the price or prices to think of the welfare of the consumers. […] It’s the role of the state,” Coronacion told TomasinoWeb in an exclusive interview.

Mariano and Bantay Bigas spokesperson Cathy Estabillo also called for the enactment of laws that will truly support the agriculture of the country such as the House Bill Resolution No. 477 or the Rice Industry Development Act and Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill or the Free Land Distribution Bill.

“[At saka] lang magiging competitive ang ating magsasaka kung yung mga pangangailangan nila, yung [kasiguraduhan] dun sa lupang sinasaka nila, subsidized loans, subsidized inputs, at the same time, ay tiyakin na mataas binibili yung palay ng ating mga magsasaka sa pamamagitan ng NFA,” Estabillo said.

Build or destroy?

“Build-Build-Build” projects of the government, according to Mariano, affect much of the agriculture sector which shrink the agricultural lands in the country.

“Paubos nang paubos ang ating agricultural lands. Eh ang agricultural lands lang naman ang klasipikasyon ng lupa sa ating bansa na puwedeng…ireclassify. Eh ‘pag hindi natin pinrotektahan ‘yan mauubos yung agricultural lands natin,” he said.

“’Yang mga Build-Build projects na ‘yan na malalaking highways sumasagasa sa ating mga productive agricultural lands. Lalo na yung mga irrigated rice lands natin. Eh dito sa norte meron tayong NLEX, SCTEX, TPLEX… Babagtasin no’n humigit kumulang 400 hectares of productive rice—irrigated rice lands,” Mariano added.

Women farmers, affected families

For Estabillo, who is also the secretary-general of the national federation of peasant women AMIHAN, the “all-time-low” palay price affect not just the farmers’ livelihood but also displaced women farmers.

“‘Yung kababaihang magsasaka marami ang umaalis sa kanilang komunidad para maghanap ng mapagkakakitaan sa mga bayan-bayan kahit na katulong, labandera, nagtitinda-tinda. At saka ang masakit, siyempre, iniiwan nila yung mga anak,” she said.

Aside from affecting their families, there is also a possibility of farmers losing their lands due to the continuous deficits in their palay production and livelihood.

“Andun din yung tendency na nare-remata yung kanilang mga bukid dahil naisangla [ito] para makakuha ng puhunan, para makapagtanim ng palay. Pero dahil dalawang beses na silang luging-lugi, mas mataas yung porsyento na nareremata at naibebenta na nila yung kanilang mga bukirin,” Estabillo said.

“Ang usapin sa pagkain ay usapin ng buong mamamayang Pilipino. […] Sana maging bahagi [tayo] dun sa iba’t ibang kampanyang inilulunsad ng ating mga magsasaka dahil tanging sa pagpapatupad ng tunay na reporma sa lupa maa-attain natin yung kasiguraduhan natin sa pagkain,” she added.

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The long, rough road of transport problem

A study of Japan International Cooperation Agency shows that traffic problem in the country costs around P3.4-billion per day. Many questions, not just about policies to solve these problems but also about urban planning in the country, are being raised because of these.

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Photo by Miguel Yap/TomasinoWeb

The problem in the country’s mass transportation became more evident in the past months especially during the breakdown and shortened service of LRT-2.

An uproar from the public prompted a ‘commute challenge’ performed by the Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo himself in order to refute the claim of ‘transport crisis’ in the country.

For Anakbayan National Spokesperson Alex Danday, what the government is doing to alleviate the transport crisis of the nation are just “band-aid solutions.”

“Hindi sapat ang ginagawa ng administrasyon dahil wala naman itong ginagawang tunay na reporma sa transportasyon. Ang ginagawa nito ay puro band-aid solutions,” Danday told TomasinoWeb.

She added that the four to six hours of commute every day in Metro Manila proves that there is transport crisis in the country.

“Pag ang ordinaryong mamamayan ay naggugugol ng malaking bahagi ng oras four to six hours kada araw papunta at pauwi sa arawang commute, ibig sabihin may transport crisis,” Danday said.

Danday stressed that asking people to adjust is not a solution but a threat to one’s well-being.

“Hindi naman maaari na laging [taong bayan] ang ma-a-adjust at paaga nang paaga ang pag-alis. Hindi ito sustainable, at insinasangkalan ang kalusugan at dignidad ng mamamayan,” she said.

Danday also expressed her disapproval of the jeepney modernization which will phaseout thousands of jeepneys in the country because it will strike not just the livelihood of the drivers but also the commute of people. 

“Ang inaatupag pa ngayon ay ang pagpapalala ng transport crisis sa panukalang jeepney phaseout sa susunod na taon. Isipin natin kung gaano hahaba ang commute ng ordinaryong tao sa oras na tanggalin ang libu-libong jeep at walang kakayahang bumili ng bagong modern jeep worth 2.2 million ang mga driver,” Danday said.

She suggested for the government to focus on having an affordable and safe mass-oriented transport system in the country.

“[Magtaguyod] ng isang nationalized at mass-oriented transport system. Imbes na magpasa ng polisiya at proyektong naglalayon na paluwagin ang mga kalye para sa mga pribadong sasakyan, dapat unahin ang ligtas at abot-kayang mass transport, isang mass transport system na hindi inuuna ang private profits over public service,” said Danday.

READ  Thomasians join protest to demand for better, affordable public transportation

Lack of urban planning or lack of proper implementation?

A study of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) shows that traffic problem in the country costs around P3.4-billion per day and if not solved will increase to around P5.4-billion in 2035.

Waze has named Manila to be the ‘worst city to drive’ last September, and Google data says it takes around 5 minutes to drive a kilometer in Metro Manila.

Many questions, not just about policies to solve these problems but also about urban planning in the country, are being raised because of these.

According to UST College of Architecture Assoc. Professor Leah Dela Rosa, Ph.D. who is also an urban planner and an architect, Metro Manila has urban plans but much were not implemented.

“Napakaraming plano, sawang-sawa na ang mga planner kakaplano. Mayroong planning, walang implementation,” Dela Rosa said in an exclusive interview with TomasinoWeb.

An example of it was the study conducted by the JICA that was made as a basis for the Metro Manila Dream Plan.

The said project has 3 main goals namely: to reduce traffic congestion, to provide urban poor people the affordable housing that is away from hazard and risk, and to protect them from danger caused by natural disasters.

Dela Rosa suggests that there should be a participatory planning, in which people will be asked what is needed to be prioritized and developed. 

She also stated that the government should have a great set of priorities that would help the development of not only Manila but also the cities of rural areas.

Furthermore, she affirmed that “urbanization” must not be implemented for there must have a distribution of opportunities all over the country for each province to grow just like Manila.

“’Pag sinabi na congestion, ang tanong sino ba ‘yung mga nag co-congest? ‘Yung mga taga-probinsya na nandito, kasi wala silang opportunities [in the province]. But if you open the opportunities outside Manila, mauubos ang tao rito,” Dela Rosa said.

It cannot be denied that there is a metro-wide transportation crisis, but the problem, according to her, is not mainly the infrastructures, but the values and attitude of people.

“Ang problem kasi ‘yung ugali ng mga Pilipino. Kapag mayroon isang bumili ng kotse, gusto rin ng isa ng kotse. ‘Pag coding, bili pa ng isa. So, it’s a social issue, it’s not just a plan,” Dela Rosa stated.

On the other hand, Dela Rosa thinks that the jeepney modernization is a good thing but the government should ensure first that they will provide alternative livelihood for the jeepney drivers who cannot afford the modernized jeepneys that will cost around P1.6-million.

“Jeep modernization, why not? Ang tanong papayag ba ang mga driver niyan? Kasi wala silang nakikitang kapalit na matino. Alternative livelihood for those who will be displaced. Hangga’t hindi mo sila binibigyan ng kapalit na trabaho, hindi ‘yan papayag,” Dela Rosa asserted.

Privatization of transport utilities

Dela Rosa also believes that privatization must not be implemented because it is the mandate of the government to operate transport utilities and provide cheaper services for the people, and there is still the lack of willingness for accountability.

“The government should operate it because it’s the mandate of the government to provide services. Kaya ‘yan ng government, sadyang ayaw lang nila. Kasi maraming externalities, ‘yung corruption and lack of accountability,” Dela Rosa explained.

READ  Jeepney modernization an "anti-poor" road?

Currently, there are three lines of trains in Metro Manila serving more than 12 million people which were neither privately-owned or privately-operated.

Ayala Corporation and Metro Pacific Investments Corporation own the LRT-1 while its operations is handled by Light Rail Manila Corporation.

The MRT-3 is owned by Metro Rail Transit Corporation while its operations is handled by the Department of Transportation

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian suggested for the privatization of LRT- 2 currently run by Light Rail Transit Authority after its service interruption last September and some groups opposed his proposal.

Only the Philippine National Railway is owned and operated by the government.

For Asst. Prof. Dennis Coronacion, Ph.D, chairperson of UST Political Science Department, the government should regulate the private transportation services providers.

“If this is all being handled by the government, ‘yung problems, ‘yung issues regarding coordination, issues regarding masyadong expensive ‘yung pamasahe, all these issues will be solved. Kasi ang after ng government is not of the profit,” Coronacion said in an exclusive interview with TomasinoWeb.

He reasoned that private transportation providers do not think much of the welfare of the commuters, unlike the state which has the mandate to serve the people and “look after the welfare of the commuters.”

He also added that in other countries like Japan, people arrive on time because public transportation is well-organized: “May coordination kasi ‘yung oras ng biyahe ng mga trains nila.” 

Hence, for Professor Coronacion, state regulation with the affairs of private corporations would serve as a solution to the country’s unorganized transport system.

“‘Pag walang state intervention diyan, walang pakialam ang mga ano, they will set prices at very high. Wala, kawawa naman ‘yung mga [tao],” he said.

On the contrary, Coronacion reminded that government meddling with the transport providers of the country is not an absolute flaw-free solution. 

“The assumption there is that ‘pag nagtayo ka ng government office to regulate, titino sila. Actually, hindi kasi there’s corruption. There’s corruption tapos there’s the weakness of the institution,” he asserted.

“Kasi I’m quite sure sa majority ng mga industries na ‘yan, merong mga government offices to regulate. But the question is it functioning well? Is it serving the interest of the public? […] Meron namang mechanisms to regulate but they are not functioning well,” Coronacion added. A. Rosario and C. Bautista

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Jeepney modernization an “anti-poor” road?

Transport group PISTON said they do not oppose modernization, but the current framework of the jeepney modernization program is “anti-poor” and only benefits large companies and businesses.

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Photo by Genelaine Urbano/TomasinoWeb.

The University once again suspended classes and office work in anticipation of today’s transport strike against the Department of Transportation (DOTr)’s jeepney modernization program.

Today’s strike marks the first for the year, and the third against the program since it was launched by the DOTr June last year.

Despite the protests, the wheels of the modernization program—which has been proposed since 2016—are already in motion as the government already began rolling out the “more convenient, more comfortable, and environment-friendly” units last January.

Along with replacing the ubiquitous jeepney with around 180,000 units by 2020, changes in the public transport franchising system, routes and training for drivers are also eyed by the program.

While commuter groups have lauded the DOTr’s proposals for the program as necessary, long overdue and beneficial for the safety of commuters, transport groups such as Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON) and No to Jeepney Phaseout Coalition continue to resist the implementation of the program.

Why then are transport groups opposing modernization program?

 

“Anti-poor”, loss of livelihood, higher fares

One of the main points of the jeepney modernization program is the phaseout of at least 15-year-old units starting this year as part of a three-year transition period.

Old units would be replaced with Euro 4-compliant engines or solar-powered engines in order to minimize carbon monoxide emissions and smoke belching.

Most jeepney units are powered by Euro 2-compliant engines.

The DOTr also proposed to outfit the new units with additional features such as dashboard cameras, Wi-Fi internet connection, speed limiters, global position system trackers, closed-circuit television cameras and an automated fare collection system powered by the Ayala Corporation-owned Beep, among others.

PISTON National President George San Mateo insisted that they are not against modernizing jeepneys for the safety of commuters and environmental concerns.

With the additional features and the forced phaseout of old units, however, PISTON decried the framework of the program as “anti-poor” and a “massacre” of the livelihood of drivers.

The transport group said the program would lead to loss of jobs or higher fares since jeepney drivers and operators would not be able to afford the price of the new units, which are estimated to cost around P1.2 to P1.6 million per unit.

The group also claimed that the price per unit could still go higher.

“Pero dahil idadaan ito sa negosyong scheme ng gobyernong Duterte ay aabot sa lagpas dalawang milyong piso ang magiging halaga ng bawat unit,” PISTON said in a statement November last year.

In the same statement, they also said that drivers would have to pay more than P800 every day for seven years for the new units.

Jeepney drivers only earn an average of P300 to P500 take home pay after 10 hours of daily driving.

In a joint statement with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), the DOTr refuted PISTON’s claims that the program is “anti-poor” and criticized the group as “misinformed” as they cited the low equity and interests rates of the Department of Finance’s financial loan and subsidy scheme to help drivers pay for the new units.

“A major component of the [program] is the financial scheme available to PUJ operators and drivers who wish to avail of new units through financing of government financial institutions, Development Bank of the Philippines and Land Bank of the Philippines,” the DOTr and the LTFRB said.

They also said that the government would offer as high as P80,000 subsidy per unit to cover the equity payment.

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte scoffed at PISTON’s protests , saying: “Mahirap kayo? Putang ina, magtiis kayo sa hirap at gutom, wala akong pakialam. It’s the majority of the Filipino people. Huwag ninyo ipasubo ang tao.”

 

“Neoliberal” policies, monopoly control

For PISTON and other militant groups, the issue of the jeepney modernization program goes beyond the capability of drivers and operators to pay for the new units.

“Neoliberal” policies in the program would lead to the monopolization of the transport sector and would only benefit foreign companies and big businesses, the groups said.

“Ang mga programang pangtransportasyon ng rehimeng US-Duterte ay nakabalangkas sa neoliberalismo na pawang anti-mahihirap at makadayuhan. Nakasandal ang programang jeepney phaseout sa pamumuhunan ng mga dayuhang korporasyon tulad ng Toyota, Chrysler, Nissan, at Mitsubishi na magpapatupad ng monopolyong kontrol sa transportasyon,” PISTON said.

The DOTr, however, said local manufacturers such as Francisco Motors would design and produce the new units, but other transport groups such as Pasang Masda and Federation of Jeepney Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines have expressed intentions to buy cheaper units from China.

PISTON feared that such actions would lead the government to be more inclined to work with and incentivize multinational car manufacturers instead of local manufacturers.

Furthermore, the group also raised flags on the LTFRB’s Omnibus Franchising Guidelines (OBF)—which goes hand in hand with the modernization program—as it would force certain franchises to merge and encourage franchises to form cooperatives for easier regulation within the three-year transition period.

Complying with the OBF is also a prerequisite for franchises to acquire at least 10 modernized jeepney units offered at P1.4 million each for the modernization program; LTFRB’s fleet management program set a minimum of 10 units for franchises to be accredited.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate slammed the fleet management program and the modernization program in House Resolution No. 833, saying that jeepney drivers and operators would be “effectively forced to surrender management of their own jeepneys to a fleet management corporation.”

Zarate further said that the modernization program “is simply a corporate takeover of the [public utility jeep] sector that would not only result to massive loss of livelihood of our transport workers, but would also severely affect the public since PUJ is still the most availed of public transport system.”

PISTON also opposed the OBF, as they stated that “kalakhan ng mga operator ang nanganganib mawalan ng prangkisa at jeepney na hahantong sa Scrappage Program sa pangunguna ng LTFRB.”

 

Nationalized mass transport system

Instead of the current program, PISTON called on the government to junk the program in favor of nationalizing the mass transport system, rather than allowing private companies to take over franchises

“Kaya’t ang kailagan ng mga tsuper, opereytor, at komyuter ay nasyunalisado na pampublikong transportasyon,” PISTON said.

The group likened the framework and policies of the current program to former President Benigno Aquino III’s  public-private partnership program, which placed line 1 of the Light Rail Transit system under the management of Metro Pacific Investments Corporation and Ayala Corporation.

Both corporations have also expressed intentions to take over the operations of the Metro Rail Transport system.

According to PISTON, nationalizing the transport system would lead to better government subsidies and more control on franchises, and thus cheaper fares and efficient “mass-oriented” transportation.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan also urged the government to invest in a state-owned mass transport system and push for an industrialized economy so that the country could manufacture its own units and thus create more jobs for drivers as well as workers in the manufacturing sector.

They also expressed support for collective or cooperative ownership of the mass transport system in the country instead of “corporatization.”

However, the DOTr remained firm in their decision to fully implement the modernization program. In response, PISTON said that they would hold bigger and longer strikes.

“At kung hindi makikinig si Duterte sa ating mga hinaing, asahang mas matagalan at malawak na pambasang tigil-pasada at protestang bayan ang ilulunsad ng ga drayber, opereytor, at komyuter, buwan-buwan kung kinakailangan,” the group stated.

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