Philippine jeepney drivers staged a noisy protest in the capital Manila on Tuesday over the government’s plan to phase out the smoke-belching vehicles and replace them with modern mini-buses.
Jeepneys — initially made from leftover US jeeps after World War II — are a national symbol in the Philippines, and serve as the backbone of the country’s transport system.
They provide rides for millions of people across the country for as little as 13 pesos (23 cents).
Hundreds of protesters joined a convoy of more than 150 jeepneys as it drove through Manila in opposition to the phase-out plan.
Caloy Orain, 65, said the money he earned from driving a jeepney for 41 years had paid for his children’s education and it was now putting his grandchildren through school.
“This jeepney is not just my livelihood, this is my life,” he told AFP.
The phase-out plan was launched in 2017 as part of a modernization program to improve the country’s chaotic public transport system.
But it has been repeatedly delayed due to protests and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Jeepney operators were given until the end of 2023 to join a cooperative, which will have two to three years to replace their fleet with modern vehicles that are safer and less polluting.
The cooperatives will be able to access bank financing and receive a government subsidy of between 200,000 and 300,000 pesos per vehicle to ease the financial burden of the transition, officials have said.
But drivers opposed to the phase-out argue that joining a cooperative and buying a new vehicle will bury them in debt and they will not be able to earn enough money to survive.
‘We will continue to fight’
Under the new scheme, drivers will be required to work a fixed schedule, instead of the current system, which allows them to work for as long, and often, as they want.
“We are not against modernization, what we are against is the system. They made a program without consulting us,” said Emilio Millares, 59, who has been driving a jeepney for four decades and took part in Tuesday’s protest.
“We will continue to fight for these jeepneys and our livelihoods until our last breath.”
Protests were also held in other cities.
Restituto Rocafort told AFP on Monday that he had almost paid off his jeepney and the phase-out plan would “only give me a huge debt”.
To meet his contribution requirements to the cooperative, he would need to earn 7,000 pesos a day, compared to his current daily earnings of 600-700 pesos, Rocafort said.
Nearly 77 percent of registered jeepneys in the country have joined cooperatives, while 97 percent in Manila have consolidated, the transport bureau said Monday.
Drivers who missed the December 31 deadline have been given permission to continue operating until the end of January.
Older drivers like Artemio Cinco fear they will struggle to find employment after January 31 due to their age.
“I’m losing sleep, especially now that the grace period is ending in a few days,” Cinco, 55, said Monday.
“I have eight children and many grandchildren. All are dependent on me.”