The battle for the "King of the Road"
(Or Will the Philippine Jeep be improved or be removed?)
At first, one would say that the so-called "King of Philippine Roads" as an iconic testaments to Filipino ingenuity, resourcefulness, and artistry. However, as time goes by, and there are those who shun an "outmoded" and inefficient mass transport, the idea to replace it altogether has been long discussed.
Driven by the idea of improving mass transport and road safety, throughts like "modernisation" hath been babbled throughout social media, and most well-earned people are agreeing to that kind of idea, although obviously it is a "correct" term referring to phasing out old, smoke-belching, unroadworthy jeeps and to make way for new versions with safer design and up-to-standard engines that emit less air pollutants.
Obviously, the idea sounds rational and worth laudable. But how come there's a stiff opposition, particularly from a majority of jeepney drivers, operators, assemblers, and even commuters alike?
Million peso burden for the driver
First, in an economy that fails to generate sufficient means of employment with decent earnings that can support a family, driving a jeepney as well as any other mode of transport (like pedicabs) has become an attractive and viable option, especially for those with some savings such as overseas Filipino workers, as well as retirees who wanted to have additional income other than their pensions.
And according to them, operating one or two passenger jeepneys is enough for an affordable micro enterprise, all in spite of problems to address like oil price hikes and taxes to pay upon.
But, with that attempt to phase out jeepneys lies a threat of economic dislocation, knowing that thousands of drivers and operators depend on that "king of the road" for their livelihood. Good to suggest that providing them with a modern jeepney meant improvement and efficiency, but for reality's sake, very few operators will be able to raise that PhP 1.2 to PhP 1.6 million-peso investment on those new units required under the modernization program. With the added requirement of 10 units per new franchise, all the more the cost will be prohibitive for existing small-time operators, many of whom are driver-operators of single units.
For an example, from a Facebook post from Albert Yumol, he stated that the e-jeepney being promoted costs around 1.6 Million. And if the government will buy the vehicle from an average driver like "Mang Danny" for PhP 30000 and provides a subsidy of PhP 80000, the amount payable will be PhP 1.49 Million.
With the 7-year payment plan of the government, he needs to pay around PhP 583 a day, no holidays, no sick days; while he himself has only PhP 417 to divide for the education of his four kids, for the rent, and food on their table.
And prior to that protest, "Mang Danny", who drives a jeepney via Cubao-Remedios route, is able to do 4 rounds of the route. There he makes around PhP 2500 in it. And if to subtract the Diesel (P200 per route * 4 = P800) as well as the Boundary Fee (700), then he earns around P1000 a day, which isn't enough to support the needs of his family.
With that phase out meant to happen (and had his vehicle be replaced with another), plus rising costs of goods, will Mang Danny survive the ordeal?
And also to think that most Filipino knows that the Jeepney is locally assembled, with assemblers struggled out to improve their creations particularly on the body and in the engines, the proposed jeepney modernization is rather imported if not locally assembled by , ranging from smaller-scale minubuses or multicabs either powered by electicity or with the same petrol engine as the old ones, repackaged as "improved"; and although authorities are "enticing" local assemblers to participate, its costs may be too much for them, that hence it would mean loss of earnings to local industry.
In fact, according to Carol Araullo in her Facebook post, that the program was long overdue since it is matched to the government’s "Comprehensive Automotive Resurgence Strategy" (CARS) which was started during the last months of the Aquino III administration and currently pursued by Duterte. The program aims to revitalize local car manufacturing by giving PhP 27 billion in tax credits to three selected foreign car manufacturers who will invest in assembly plants in the country. The tax incentives will be indexed on how much of the car components are sourced locally and on the volume of cars to be produced. Two Japanese multinational firms have already been chosen, Toyota and Mitsubishi. The CARS program is expected to roll out 600,000 cars over a six-year period.
Hence, that program appears that the government is actually creating a market in the public transport sector for multinational corporations with its domestic partners currently engaged in the local assembly of foreign-branded cars and the marketing of assorted electronic gadgets; whilst sidelining local assemblers in spite of statements "encouraging" local ones to engage in the manufacture of modern vehicles including jeepneys.
The need for a genuine participation for mass transport modernisation
All in all, attempts to improve and upgrade the jeepney as a mode of transport can not be premised on destroying the livelihood of drivers and operators then leaving them and their families to somehow fend for themselves, as well as assemblers going bankrupt all because of sudden imports.
Improvement as it appears to be, but reality shows that it is more of a phase out with a limited space for those who can afford in those "modern vehicles", and Whereas the present administration is trying to be inclusive, why on earth to limit inclusiveness to those who are interest-seeking? Thinking that numerous foreign-sounding names are willing to back that program while sidelining the local ones wanting to participate in the process for improving their existences.
And contrary to those who are trying to distort the message of those opposing the "modernisation", its not about retaining the old jeep itself but rather the desire for genuine participation of various sectors in resolving problems surrounding mass transportation and its means to improve it. The problem lies in the system who rather impose something with apologists starting to babble their "basis" as if they represent the commoners regardless of its negative effects like bigwigs over smallholders as makers, of rising costs and fares, and various bullshits that affected the driver, the operator, the commuter, the assembler, and the community in general.
If there is an apathetic to justify the need for phaseouts be it jeepneys or even buses and taxis, probably the intent is not to improve mass transporation but to keep the roads for themselves "in the name of freedom". Do you think they will keep mass transport like jeeps, buses, taxis, UV expresses? Western-style individualism has been bannered throughout as a frank response to the transportation issue, while some who assuming to be concerned tries to justify statements from the authorities the way James Deakin did. But in spite of that, their indifference rather prevails than their semblance of concern trying to appear as such.