The Philippines aims to make its public transportation system efficient and environmentally friendly by 2020, which led it to launch the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) through its Department of Transportation (DOT).
However, the government’s push for modernization has triggered a protest from operators of traditional public jeepneys and minivans from March 6 to 8, 2023.
The PUVMP intends to phase out 15-year-old diesel-fueled vehicles with newer, cleaner minibusses and direct operators to form cooperatives. It also orders traditional jeepney operators to stop their operation if they don’t join a cooperative by 31 December 2023, a new deadline date agreed upon after the strike pushed it further from the initial 30 June 2023 deadline.
With a price tag of around 2 million pesos (USD 36,536) each, drivers and operators claim these modern jeepneys and minibusses are too expensive for them, and the government’s 160 thousand (USD 2,922) subsidy is not enough. In contrast, these traditional jeepneys only cost between 150 and 250 thousand pesos (USD 2,740 to 4,567).
“It’s OK to have modernization for those who have money,” jeepney driver Benito Garcia stated in an article by The Associated Press. “But for us jeepney drivers and operators, we cannot afford,” he added.
According to data cited by Senator Grace Poe in a Philippine Daily Inquirer article, a jeepney driver’s average earnings for a day’s work is a meager 755 pesos (USD 13.79).
Two public transport groups, Manibela and Piston, led the strike. The former claims to represent 40,000 drivers. They claimed the strike would impact 80% of commuters relying on these traditional public vehicles.
Kings of the roads
Jeepneys are dubbed kings of the road in the Philippines, a relic left by Americans when World War II ended. Enterprising Filipinos repurposed old jeeps left by the United States Army into public vehicles that can carry as many as 25 people. Until today, these repurposed utility vehicles are the country’s cheapest and most common form of commuter transport.
According to the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), around 158,000 traditional jeepneys operate in the country, and about 5,300 modern jeepneys with air-conditioning and security cameras are on the road.
These diesel-powered jeepneys were modified and then reproduced, many with second-hand truck chassis, and for decades, were the most common form of transport among the working class. They cough out dark fumes that have been blamed for Manila’s notoriously polluted air.
After negotiations with President Marcos’s administration, Manibela president Mar Valbuena says, “Our group Manibela is at one with the aim of the government to provide a proper, comfortable and safe transportation to the public. We are not going against the planned modernization of the vehicles. We just wish we do it humanely and justly so that no one gets left behind” (Relativo, 2023).
Piston chairman Mody Floranda wanted the government to support their position of rehabilitating vehicles so that modernization would “not kill the livelihood” of drivers and local manufacturers of these traditional jeeps.
The transport union says they will closely monitor and ensure that President Marco’s administration will keep their word of not phasing out classic jeeps that are compliant with regulations regardless of whether they are up to 20 years old. The transport union calls for the complete junking of the modernization policy.
Pushbacks against the transition to a green economy usually come from businesses, communities, and citizens directly affected by the changes.
Regarding the operators of traditional public vehicles in the Philippines, the government must provide more support or an equitable and fairer path to transition to cleaner ones. Offering an alternative livelihood to jeepney operators whom the program may displace is also a good option.
According to a Brookings article, “It is unfair to push poor countries to reach zero carbon emissions too early,” prosperous economies that are high emitters overall should be the first to reduce their emissions aggressively.
In contrast, lower-income and lower-emissions countries should reduce their emissions on a credible path.
Relativo, J. (2023, March 8). Jeepney strike ends as gov’t agrees to review modernization program. Philstar. Retrieved from https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2023/03/08/2250172/jeepney-strike-ends-govt-agrees-review-modernization-program
Beltran, M. (2023, March 8). Philippines Jeepney strike drives home modernization concerns. Aljazeera. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/3/8/jeepney-strike-drives-home-concerns-about-modernisation-plan
Drivers strike over plan to remove aging Philippine jeepneys. (2023, March 6). AP. Retrieved from https://apnews.com/article/philippines-transport-strike-jeepneys-16c7ce8a35ec8e6cc661b3fafaec208d
Cabrera, R. (2023, March 2). Jeepney phaseout deadline extended. Philstar. Retrieved from https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2023/03/02/2248678/jeepney-phaseout-deadline-extended