The series of transport strikes in the last quarter of last year pressured the Manila government to delay the implementation of its much criticized Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP).

House Speaker Martin Romualdez pressed the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to review and extend the enforcement of the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) that the government has been trying to implement since 2013.

The Speaker said he received reports that “corrupt practices may have tainted the conceptualization and planned implementation of the jeepney modernization program.”

During the hearing of the House Committee on Transportation, driver-operator Philip Burata narrated how they lost ownership and rights over their jeepneys after joining a company, despite an earlier agreement that they would still be allowed to manage their fleet.

“We spent for our vehicles; our franchises were transferred to them (cooperative). We spent for the garage in compliance with the requirements of the Land Transportation Franchise and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), but our names were not included in the corporation,” Burata said.

“They filed carnapping case against us. Four of us were charged with 38 counts of carnapping. The 44 approved in our route were given to us to manage, but they forcibly took out 4 units out of the streets,” he said.

After constant prodding from several lawmakers, LTFRB agreed to review the implementation of the program to address these concerns.

On Thursday, the transport group PISTON joined the Makabayan bloc in filing a House resolution calling for the repeal of the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines (OFG) and the deferment of the December 31, 2023, deadline for the application of franchise consolidation.

The OFG, or the DOTr Department Order 2017-011, is the policy being used by the government to implement its Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP), including the franchise consolidation requirement.

Mandatory franchise consolidation is one of the first steps in the implementation of the PUVMP. According to PISTON, PUV operators are being forced to surrender their individual franchises to be consolidated into a single franchise per cooperative or corporation. This could result in a monopoly by a few large cooperatives or corporations with the necessary financial capacity to comply with the hefty capital requirements for “modernizing” and controlling PUV routes, thereby concentrating market control in the hands a few corporate entities.

A petition pending at the Supreme Court argues that the mandatory consolidation requirement infringes on the constitutional right to freedom of association, rendering it unconstitutional. “The constitutionally guaranteed freedom of association includes the freedom not to associate,” the petition states. The Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) requires operators to consolidate their individual franchises into a single franchise under a cooperative or corporation. The petition further argues that:   “[The right to freedom of association] does not include the right to compel others to form or join [an association].”