MORE than a hundred congressmen have signed a resolution asking the government to lift the ban on public utility jeepneys amid a coronavirus pandemic.
The lawmakers signed House Resolution 1254, which cited the “need to address the worsening economic plight of jeepney drivers and operators who have been grounded since the start of the community quarantine.”
The document was authored by Manila Rep. Bienvenido A. Abante, Jr., Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Y. Belmonte and members of the six-member Makabayan bloc at the House of Representatives.
The lawmakers said 75,000 traditional jeepneys on 900 routes all over Metro Manila have been affected since the government restricted mass transportation to contain the pandemic.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte locked down the entire Luzon island in mid-March, suspending work, classes and public transportation to control the coronavirus. People should stay home except to buy food and other basic goods, he said.
The lockdown in many parts of the country including the capital region where infections are mostly concentrated has since been relaxed, but the wildly painted jeepney that has become a Philippine cultural icon remained mostly banned.
The ban on jeepneys, where passengers closely sit next to and in front of each other, was in keeping with state efforts to enforce social distancing.
The presidential palace in June said jeepneys might soon be allowed under a relaxed lockdown as long as they are roadworthy, pursuant to the government’s modernization plan for these vehicles.
In their resolution, the congressmen cited an international research from the University of Amsterdam and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed there was a reduced risk of viral spread in well-ventilated open-air vehicles.
As of Sept. 18, 206 traditional public utility jeepney routes have been opened, or about 23% of the more than 900 existing routes.
This allowed 17,372 traditional jeepney units in Metro Manila to resume operations or almost a quarter of the 75,000 total.
“Even with the phased reopening of routes, the gradual increase in the number of operating jeepney units and the introduction of modern jeepneys, the number of available public transportation units remain lacking and has thus caused hardships among commuters,” according to a copy of the resolution.
Mar S. Valbuena, president of the Samahang Manibela Mananakay at Nagkaisang Terminal ng Transportasyon, earlier said the government must address the plight of the country’s half-a-million jeepney drivers, 140,000 of whom are in the capital region.
On June 2, police arrested six jeepney drivers in Caloocan City after they protested their continued ban under a relaxed lockdown. One of them was a 72-year-old man named Elmer Cordero. The Commission on Human Rights has expressed “deep concern” about the arrests.
Mr. Valbuena earlier said the government might be using the pandemic to push its agenda of phasing out old jeepneys.
Under the modernization program launched in June 2017, operators must stop using 15-year-old units and older, and replace these with new ones in three years.
To date, only 4% of about 370,000 old jeepneys nationwide have been replaced. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza