What the strikers lost

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

THE public transport strike last Monday caused great harm to people and businesses, but it did not paralyze the country as the organizers had hoped. In Bacolod many jeeps plied their routes and traffic was at a snail’s pace as usual. To this extent, the stoppage of public transport failed to give the private vehicles a breather.

Understandably the organizers claimed almost total paralysis, but did they make a dint in the decision of the government to phase out jeeps that are already over 15 years old? The government already announced its decision to phase out the jeeps.

Operators of the jeeps that joined the strike are to be penalized with the cancellation of their franchises. The threat seems hollow because the same warning had been issued every time there was a strike and nothing happened.  After the strike and the threats, there is silence as if the strike did not take place at all.

A strike is a form of protest or to express dissent and by its nature create discomfort or harm to the people who are not involved. Of course, the main intent is to make public the protest with a hope that the people will understand the validity and righteousness of the protest and support it.

However, the aims of the strikers appear to have not created that support; in fact, the reverse is true. Commuters who had to go to work were directly hit. These are workers who earn a daily wage, those who perform necessary functions like employees in hotels, restaurants, hospitals, government offices, call centers, etc. Unlike students, their presence is needed.

The main demand of the strikers is to stop the government’s plan to modernize the public transport vehicles that have lorded over the streets since after World War II. The jeeps were remnants of the American small utility vehicles that were converted to allow twelve passengers to sit facing each other comfortably.

Through the years and ingenuity of the Filipino, it developed into a national icon in the streets with new designs and colors. The passenger jeep has become a real Filipino means of public transportation nowhere found in the world. It is truly Filipino, including the decorations and signage that are educational as well as humorous and even sexually suggestive. One cannot find such humor in other countries.

Drivers of jeeps are a hardy lot. They inhale a lot of carbon dioxide for over 12 hours a day and collect a lot of smudge. I asked one driver about the fumes that can cause illness and he just said, he takes a bottle of beer or a shot of whiskey before going to bed that was enough to clear his throat and lungs. He is mistaken, of course, but that was enough to kick him to bed.

The problem with these jeeps is that they are inefficient in fuel consumption and clog the streets with their snake-like manners in the middle of traffic snarls. They refuse to follow basic road courtesy in their attempt to get passengers, picking up and discharging passengers wherever they wished. Due to these undesirable habits, many motorists have little sympathy for them.

The problem with the government’s decision is the lack of convincing information on how the phase-out and the replacement will be done. Consequently, there are doubts, fears and apprehensions that the drivers will also be phased out and lose their source of livelihood.

The program looks good at its face but there are kinks that drivers and even operators oppose. For instance, the funds needed for the purchase of vehicles. While there are loans available, the mechanism of repayment will be difficult for people who depend on daily income. I have seen how cooperatives failed in many cases when members live on what they earn for that day.

There are incentives, like discounts, but it seems they are not attractive enough to the drivers.

Be that as it may, the strike last Monday was a minus to their cause. For one, the president simply ignored the strike and the transport officials were put to a test of wills to enforce what they threatened. In this case, the drivers lost the public’s as well as the government’s sympathy.

The best approach they could take is to sit down with the government once more to thresh out issues and get the best deal.