Malacañang on Sunday warned transport groups that would harass drivers into joining their planned nationwide strike Monday that the government would revoke their franchises if necessary.
“We hope that they will not harass the others who do not wish to participate. And we will protect not only the riding public but also the other operators—the jeepney operators, the bus operators—who will continue to serve the public,” President Benigno Aquino III’s spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, said over state-run Radyo ng Bayan.
Lacierda cautioned the protesting transport groups against violating the law, otherwise “we will be ready to act if you violate the law.”
The Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston) is leading the strike to protest rising fuel prices, claiming that its dialogue with the President and other officials to address transport woes fell through.
The strike is meant to dramatize the transport sector’s demand to put an end to the imposition of the 12-percent value-added tax (VAT) on oil products and a stop to the implementation of the VAT on toll, which is set to start on October 1.
“Removing the taxes on oil products is the least that the government should do to lessen the burden of the high oil prices on the people,” said Edgar Salarda, Piston coordinator in the Visayas.
Salarda said the group was demanding a rollback in fuel prices by at least P9 per liter, which he claimed represented the overpricing by giant oil companies.
He said a long-term solution to the continued increase in oil prices was the repeal of the Oil Deregulation Law (Republic Act No. 8479), which allows giant oil companies to set prices without government approval or control.
Franchise a privilege
Asked if the government would revoke the franchises of protesting transport operators, Lacierda said: “Well, we’ve already said it time and again, ‘You have obligations and responsibilities—being franchise holders is a privilege and not a right—and, therefore, if you violate the terms and conditions of your franchise, appropriate actions will be taken.’”
Lacierda said the Palace would let the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and other agencies deal with the matter today. “We will leave that to the appropriate agencies to investigate if any violations will be committed by any transport group,” he said.
Asked to comment on Malacañang’s threat, Piston secretary general George San Mateo said: “Our strike will push through. Nothing can stop it.”
In a phone interview, San Mateo dismissed as “overacting and overkill” the Palace threat that jeepney drivers who participate in the strike would be sued for violating the provisions of their franchises.
“This is a scare tactic. Maybe they are afraid of us. Or maybe they are guilty because they know the truth that there was really no concrete results from the [transport leaders’] dialogue [with President Aquino last week],” San Mateo said.
Lacierda disputed Piston’s claim that Mr. Aquino failed to propose a concrete solution, saying that the administration was studying the conversion of jeepneys’ fuel from diesel to liquefied petroleum gas to lessen their fuel costs and increase their daily earnings.
Rights of drivers
San Mateo said the rights of jeepney drivers and operators to go on strike were constitutionally protected.
“We’re just exercising our rights to assemble peacefully and air our grievances. This is guaranteed by our Constitution. Even congressmen and Transportation Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas recognize that we have this right,” he said.
He noted that the previous administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had also threatened to file charges against striking jeepney drivers but these threats did not materialize.
Though some transport associations have already begged off from joining the protest, Piston is still expecting around 40,000 jeepneys in Metro Manila alone to stop plying their routes.
9 areas in Metro
He said the drivers would begin the strike between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., and gather in nine areas in Metro Manila: Aurora Boulevard-Cubao, Philcoa, Quirino Avenue in Novaliches Proper; Kalayaan Avenue and Kamias Road, all in Quezon City; Alabang Viaduct in Muntinlupa City; Anda Circle in Manila; Sucat-Evacom and Roxas Boulevard-Baclaran in Parañaque City; and Monumento Circle in Caloocan City.
Manila-bound jeepney drivers will converge at the Aguinaldo Highway toll bridge in Bacoor, Cavite, and on ML Quezon Avenue in Angono, Rizal.
San Mateo said some 200,000 Piston members in Calabarzon, Soccsksargen/Southern Mindanao, Caraga and Northern Mindanao would also participate in the rallies.
Protests by sympathetic sectors, such as militant labor groups, are expected in some areas in Metro Manila, the Visayas and northern Luzon, he added.
Number coding suspended
In anticipation of the protest action, the MMDA is suspending the number-coding scheme for vehicles today, while the military and police are mobilizing trucks and buses to ferry commuters to and from work, according to Lacierda.
“We are there to protect the riding public. They are our No. 1 interest here. We will make sure that we will not prejudice the riding public,” he said.
At the Balitaan sa Tinapayan media forum in Sampaloc, Manila, on Sunday, Piston urged private vehicles to help its cause by boycotting gas stations today.
“This is everyone’s fight,” San Mateo said of the nationwide strike.
He urged the public not to believe what the government was saying that transport strikes would only inconvenience commuters and jeepney drivers but not the big oil firms.
“The Department of Energy has said that 70 percent of the oil companies’ sales per day come from diesel. When we [public-utility jeepneys] hold strikes, they lose a large amount of money. If the motorists join us, they will be bankrupt for the day,” San Mateo said.
He also called on private vehicle drivers to pitch in by refusing to load gasoline during the strike. Private vehicles account for at least 20 percent of the oil companies’ sales per day, he said.
Central, northern Luzon
Except in Isabela, transport leaders in most provinces in central and northern Luzon on Sunday said they would not stage a strike in major cities and provincial centers on Monday.
In Pampanga, Rey Gueco, chair of the provincial chapter of Piston, and Bonifacio David, chair of the Federation of Transport Associations in the City of San Fernando, said their groups were not joining the protest.
In Isabela, Gretchen Valdez, spokesperson of the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in the province, said a group of jeepney drivers and operators would join a 50-vehicle caravan in Santiago City to protest the oil price increases.
Valdez said drivers from Nueva Vizcaya and southern Isabela were expected to join.
Transport groups in La Union, Pangasinan and Baguio City are not joining the strike, reports said.
On Panay Island, transport groups will hold protest actions but they will not join the strike in Manila and other regions.
Salarda said Piston and other transport organizations would hold a rally at the Plazoletagay, the city’s main intersection, to show support for the nationwide protest.
They will stage a noise barrage at 3 p.m. to be joined by public jeepneys with the blowing of horns. Militant groups are expected to mount rallies in Roxas City in Capiz and in the capital town of Kalibo in Aklan, according to Salarda.
He said his group could not join the strike for lack of preparation and time. It would take at least a month to gather support from all sectors to launch a strike, he said.
In May, Panay transport groups launched a two-day strike, also in protest of oil price increases. The strike crippled public transport on the island.
In General Santos City, militant groups in Southern and Central Mindanao vowed to paralyze public transport on Monday.
Roy Sande, Piston regional coordinator, told reporters that thousands of drivers and operators in General Santos, Sarangani, South Cotabato and Davao del Sur pledged to participate.
He urged residents, commuters and motorists to support and sympathize with them.
In Davao City, at least three private schools announced that there would be no classes on Monday. With reports from Jaymee T. Gamil in Manila; Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon; Villamor Visaya Jr., Inquirer Northern Luzon; Nestor P. Burgos Jr., Inquirer Visayas; and Aquiles Z. Zonio, Inquirer.
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