PUV franchise consolidation, contractualization at the center of this year’s Labor Day protests

Operators of public utility vehicles and mass organizations crowded the streets on Labor Day, May 1, to oppose prominent labor rights issues, including the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) and contractualization.

Braving the distance

The groups first gathered separately at España Blvd. and Morayta St. then eventually converged to carry out their annual Labor Day protest at Mendiola St. amid police presence. Dissent against PUVMP and climate change, as well as long-standing labor issues such as low minimum wage and contractualization, were echoed in the rally through speeches and cultural performances. 

Human rights lawyer and labor activist Atty. Luke Espiritu saw the police blockade as a testament to the government’s “rudeness,” but he lauded protesters for their commitment to echo calls on various matters, even those outside their main sectors. “It is a good sight to see…that the Filipino masses are not silent, at nakikiisa ang mga manggagawa sa mga ganong samu’t-saring isyu at binibitbit ‘yan ngayong Labor Day,” he expressed.

(…and that labor workers are united by carrying these issues during Labor Day.)

In the afternoon, the protestors gathered once again at Kalaw Ave. to march and rally by the gates of the United States (US) Embassy at Roxas Blvd. and call out the US’ involvement in local affairs. But, they were challenged by technical difficulties and state forces equipped with full riot gear and fire trucks. 

The ensuing march turned into a brawl when protestors pushing past the police wall were clubbed by batons and bashed by riot shields. Some protestors eventually made their way through the police but were again blocked, pushing them to conduct their program in front of the Museo Pambata, a few blocks away from the embassy, instead. Even then, the police continued to attempt driving the protesters away through water cannon attacks.

The program consisted of several speakers from different sectors and various cultural performances relating to the Filipino struggle. The demonstrators also destroyed an effigy of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in an act of defiance against the current system.

GABRIELA Secretary General Clarice Palce commented on the protestors’ earlier encounter, relating it to US-Philippine relations. “Bakit [kaya] tayong mga Pilipino nahihirapan tumapak sa US. Embassy pero napakadali ng mga Amerikano [tumapak] sa mga katubigan ng ating bansa, Palce asked.

(Why do we Filipinos find it difficult to step into the US Embassy, but Americans find it so easy to step into the waters of our country?)

MANIBELA Head Mar Valbuena also slammed the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) for their implementation of the PUV Modernization Program, asserting, “Bulok ang iyong modernisasyon. Mas handa pa kami sa programa [ninyo].

(Your modernization is rotten. We are more prepared than your program.)

The protest concluded with six activists being arrested during the event. They were eventually freed on May 7 after posting bails amounting to P42,000 each. 

A battle on the highway

Prior to the Labor Day protest, transport groups PISTON and MANIBELA, joined by other sectoral groups and civilians, held a three-day nationwide transport strike from April 29 to May 1 at Liwasang Bonifacio to heighten calls against the April 30 consolidation deadline of the PUVMP, which the government has affirmed to be its final extension.

Jonel Losares, a jeepney driver, clarified that they are not against modernization but hoped that the government would listen to their call against consolidation and would procure locally manufactured jeepneys instead.

Sana pakinggan ang aming hinaing na kami po ay nakikiusap lamang sa gobyerno…Huwag naman kami pilitin na ipasok sa modernization. Pwede naman po i-modernize ang jeep na walang consolidation,” he said.

(I hope they will listen to us as we are only imploring the government: don’t force us into modernization. Jeepneys can be modernized without consolidation.

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raoul Manuel, who also showed solidarity in the demonstration, believes that the government’s current response to the transportation crisis is “anti-people.” He argued that transport policies should be recalibrated from being car-centric to catering more to public and active transportation.

Napakaliit ng pondo para sa ating local jeepney manufacturing industry…Kailangan talaga ng shift in our transport policy at kasama diyan ang pag-review at pag-suspend ng PUVMP…at palitan ng mas makataong programa,” he suggested.

(The funds for our local jeepney manufacturing industry are so few. We really need a shift in our policy, and this means a review and suspension of the PUVMP as well as a change into a more humanitarian program.)

The transport groups also filed an amended petition on April 29 asking the Supreme Court for a temporary restraining order against the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and LTFRB to suspend the implementation of the PUV Modernization Program. The DOTr, however, affirmed that they would push through with the program while awaiting the court’s decision.

Amid uncertainties, Valbuena vowed that their fight does not end after the consolidation deadline and that they will continue to reach out to the government regarding their concerns. On May 21, Valbuena and other transport groups held a picket protest at the House of Representatives, concurrent to a committee inquiry on the PUVMP.

As for PISTON Deputy Secretary General Ruben Baylon, he simply asserted, “ba-byahe kami.

(We will ride.)

The LaSallian

By The LaSallian

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