• Baguio City, Cordillera Administrative Region, Philippines


April 30, 2024

The Cordillera Peoples Alliance joins the nationwide protest against the deadline of franchise consolidation affecting thousands of Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) operators, drivers, and commuters. Under the 2017 Omnibus Franchising Guidelines that launched the PUV Modernization Program (PUVMP), traditional jeepneys will be phased-out in favor of imported and expensive mini-buses. Moreover, PUVs will be consolidated under franchises owned by cooperatives or corporations. This means that operators will lose ownership of their franchises to cooperatives or corporations that are vulnerable to the control of business tycoons. Drivers will, in turn, suffer a major blow to their livelihood, and commuters will similarly bear the brunt of a massive transport crisis. The PUVMP, therefore, is an all-out livelihood massacre.

The government justifies the PUVMP by declaring it as a project aimed towards a climate-resilient and low-carbon economy, a commitment initially expressed in the Philippines’ adoption of the 2015 Paris Agreement which outlines the global need to keep the global average temperature to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial level, and to keep the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial level. In the country, PUVs were erroneously identified as major polluters without considering that, according to statistics, only 2% of vehicles across the country are public while the other 98% are private. The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank are quick to offer loan agreements for the modernization program’s implementation. Still, after 7 years since its conception, it could not move quickly except for a few test implementations across the major cities, Baguio included. Initially, the deadline for franchise consolidation was December 31, 2023, but the pickets and strikes of operators, drivers, and commuters moved the deadline to April 30, 2024. To this day, the opposition remains strong. Should the franchise consolidation push through, it will thus be an outright dismissal of the peoples’ demands.

Big businesses are already at the forefront of the PUV modernization. Lucio Tan, the SM Group (Sy Family), the Ayala family, and even the Aboitiz Family are flaunting their “modernized” vehicles while drivers and operators are decrying the expensive mini-buses which cost around Php 2.5 million (USD 43,000) per unit. They are expected to produce almost Php 7,000 daily just to be able to pay for a single unit. This means that a fare increase can reach up to Php 50. Expenses for garages, terminals, and vehicle maintenance are not yet included.

In the Cordillera, the PUVMP is nothing but foolish and inappropriate. As stated in the 40th Peoples’ Cordillera Day Declaration of Unity Against Imperialist Plunder and State Terrorism Under the US-Marcos Regime, “Communities have developed, owing to their experience, strong jeepneys that are appropriate to our conditions, and which the government should support in order to further develop public transport in the Cordillera hinterlands.” It should also be noted that some of the big business names involved in the PUVMP are also the same names who have a vested interest in our ancestral domains. Their large, destructive, and intrusive mining and energy projects currently threaten many indigenous communities including key biodiversity areas found in the region. It is ironic for them to be championing “modernized” and environmentally friendly transport system when they themselves are insisting on the utter destruction of a mountainous land occupied and nurtured by our foremost environmental defenders: our indigenous peoples.

We give our highest salute to our jeepney drivers and operators and challenge commuters to join in solidarity. The PUVMP will affect the country’s entire socio-economic system, including a culture of innovation, camaraderie, and community relationships surrounding our beloved jeepneys. What we need to do now is to make a stand and take the ride towards a progressive, nationalist, and mass-oriented transport system.