Filipino jeepney drivers launched a two-day transport strike on 6-7 March 2023, in response to the government’s plans to phaseout the Philippine jeepney.
Jeepneys, in the vernacular “jeep”, were originally adopted from military GP (General Purpose) vehicles left by the US soldiers after World War II. They have evolved to present-day larger vehicles carrying up to 25 passengers and attained an iconic status with their colorful decorations. Dubbed “the king of the road,” they dominate both the urban and rural transport system in the Philippines, offering fares cheaper than trains, taxis or tricycles.
Transport unions Piston, Manibela and other jeepney operators’ and drivers’ organizations led about 100,000 jeepney drivers in major cities to stop their operations to protest the Marcos government’s Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP). First presented in 2017, the program would replace jeepneys that are older than 15 years with minibuses and consolidate operators and drivers into cooperatives.
Modesto Floranda, chairperson of Piston, said the drivers cannot afford the cost of this modernization. They will have to shoulder up to 2.8 million pesos (50,800 USD) to replace their vehicles and will need at least 15 vehicles to form a cooperative. “Who would not want a more efficient and comfortable vehicle? We earn barely enough to survive. We’d like a modernization that caters to the needs of the transport sector. But this is modernization favors big business and is a bane to the commuting public as well.”
Under the PUVMP, jeepney drivers may end up buried in P2.8 million of debt just to acquire a new jeepney. The move forces drivers to increase fares just so they can pay off debts and other operational expenses.
A recent study by the University of the Philippines estimated minimum jeepney fares could rise by 300 percent as a result of the PUVMP.
The strike compelled the Marcos government to postpone the execution of the consolidation deadline to the end of the year.
“An execution is still an execution if you just move the date…the government is massacring our livelihood,” Floranda responded.