By Roy Ramos
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines
Annoyed by a nationwide transport strike, President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday gave operators and transport groups until the end of the year to modernize jeepneys or face arrest.
“By January 1, if I see an old, unregistered jeepney, I will drag it in front of you,” said Duterte in a speech in the northern province of Caramines Sur.
The Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) Modernization Program, which is targeted for completion by 2020, aims for safe and comfortable transport, predictable travel times, disciplined and competent drivers and the imposition of fair regulations.
The program’s component which led to a nationwide strike by jeepney operators and drivers on Monday and Tuesday was the proposed phase-out of all old PUVs, not only jeepneys, which are mostly of substandard quality in terms of safety and environmental sustainability.
In view of the nationwide rallies, Duterte suspended work at government offices and classes on both days to ensure public safety and prevent inconvenience to commuters.
Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston), the association of jeepney drivers and operators, along with leftist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) has called the program anti-poor as it would result in the displacement and loss of livelihood of drivers and operators.
“You’re poor? Suffer in hardship and hunger. I don't care. It's the majority of the Filipino people. Don't drag the public with you," said Duterte.
Duterte said the nationwide transport strike is an act of rebellion and has poisoned the minds of the Filipinos.
“You know that you are poisoning the people. By 2030, one-third of Filipinos, mostly poor, will die of lung cancer because you don't want to fix your engines," Duterte said earlier in Marawi.
“If the government says protect public interest, we must follow. If we fail, it means more money [is needed] for lung cancer and respiratory diseases,” he said.
The protesters earlier threatened to conduct rallies every month until the president holds discussions with them.
“If the president will not listen to us, we swear to do this rallying every month as we are left with no choice. The government has pushed us against the wall,” said the association.