The modernization plan is changing jeepney drivers’ lives forever

With the looming jeepney modernization deadline, the fate of many jeepney drivers, their families, and other transport workers, hang in the balance.

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UPDATE: On Dec. 18, 2020, the LTFRB extended the deadline for the "Application for Consolidation pursuant to Industry Consolidation" of the PUV Modernization Program until Mar. 31, 2021.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — These days, Martin Casela Jr. earns his keep tending to a roadside stall in Makati, where he sells underwear and face shields at bargain prices.

He used to earn as much as ₱2,000 per day driving a jeepney through the Guadalupe-L. Guinto route. The pandemic drastically cut his daily earnings to a fraction of what driving a jeepney yielded him before. “Two hundred twenty pesos lang [ang kinita ko] noong Sep. 14, kaya tumigil ako at nagtinda na lang ako,” he says.

Casela, 53, has been a jeepney driver for 30 years. This has never happened to him before.

If the money were good — and it was, for him, before the lockdown happened — he would still be happily plying the roads, and he would not be thinking of going home to the province. Why would he? “Kayang magpaaral ng [mga] jeepney driver,” he says. “Kahit paano, dahil sa jeep, nasusunod ko luho ng mga apo ko, ng mga anak ko.”

“Madali ang pera dito,” says 51-year old driver Danilo Meneses. “Marami na akong trabaho pero dito ako tumagal. Ito ang gusto ko, pagmamaneho.” Photo by JL JAVIER

Danilo Meneses, 51, echoes the sentiment. In line to wait for passengers in the Queensrow-SM Southmall route, he says: “Madali ang pera dito. Marami na akong trabaho pero dito ako tumagal. Ito ang gusto ko, pagmamaneho.”

Indeed, there is no other profession that Alberto Salvador, 25, would rather practice. As the jeepney he drives fills up with passengers at a terminal in Las Piñas, he muses on six years of driving, along with his father before him. “D’yan din ako binuhay, sa jeep,” says Salvador.

Casela, Meneses, Salvador, and hundreds more like them may not have dreamed of being jeepney drivers, but jeepney driving is their life’s honest work. It is a deep source of pride.

They hope to grow old in their chosen professions, but the government’s public utility vehicle modernization program (PUVMP) is poised to change their means of living.

Martin Casela, 53, has been a jeepney driver for 30 years. These days, Martin Casela Jr. earns his keep tending to a roadside stall in Makati. Photo by MARBI BIAG

The deadline

The plan to ‘modernize’ public utility jeepneys (PUJs) — or to be more accurate, the public utility vehicle (PUV) system — became concrete sometime in 2017, when the Department of Transportation (DOTr) issued its “Omnibus Guidelines on the Planning and Identification of Public Road Transportation Services and Franchise Issuance,” which was dated June 19, 2017.

According to the guidelines, “as a basic policy, PUV drivers shall undergo the mandatory continuing drivers’ education thru the Driver’s Academy and be on fixed salary and benefits with no compensation linked to ridership.”

Jeepneys, in particular, shall serve routes with passenger demand of 1,000 pphpd (passengers per hour per direction); with routes linking neighborhoods and communities to mass transit lines and bus routes, but restricted in EDSA and other national highways; shall comply with body make requirements prescribed by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), including compliance with EURO IV emission standards or better; and shall include features such as a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) receiver, automatic fare collection systems, free wifi, CCTVs, speed limiters, and dashboard cameras, among others.

In early 2018, Martin Delgra III, the current LTFRB chairman, explained the modernization program through a video uploaded to the agency’s Youtube page. Over inspirational music, he says: “Gusto ko rin makita na, kahit na sino sumakay, bata, matanda, mahirap, mayaman… kahit anong suot mo, gusto mong sumakay, hindi ka mag-aalinlangan.”

In the same video, then DOTr undersecretary Thomas Orbos highlighted the need for safe, reliable, and predictable public transport.

For jeepneys, this meant, first, that new franchises shall be issued only to entities that represent consolidated franchises, either an accredited cooperative or a corporation which operates 15 units or more. (Thus, a singular jeepney owner cannot apply for his own franchise.) Second, traditional jeepneys shall be replaced with new vehicles with a body make that abides by LTFRB guidelines (which, to the naked eye, make the jeeps look more like minibuses). The cost of this new vehicle varies, but they cost at least ₱1.6 million and above. (In contrast, a jeepney may cost as low as ₱100,000.)

With the plan laid out in the guidelines, PUVs were given three years to transition. It was supposed to have lapsed in July, but due to the pandemic, was further extended to December 31.

The LTFRB clarifies that “what the Board requires under its issuances is for existing operators to consolidate by year-end.”

“Consolidation, as one of the key components of the program, aims to put together the fragmented transport industry by encouraging single operators and drivers to come together as one legal entity (whether as a cooperative or corporation),” the LTFRB states in response to inquiries sent by CNN Philippines Life via email. “Some key direct and indirect benefits of operating under one entity include the following: access to credit facilities; spread of capital and operation and maintenance expenses; operational efficiency through organized dispatch of fleet; enhanced service quality of public transport for commuters, reduced on-street competition among drivers.”

Part of the plan as well is to delink jeepney drivers from the boundary system, and instead pay them a fixed salary based on the number of kilometers traveled by the jeep. Under a boundary system, drivers rely on the number of passengers served to earn the fixed amount (the “boundary”) they remit to operators from their daily earnings.

Related: Is it possible for drivers to pay ‘boundary’ while observing social distancing?

As of October 2020, the LTFRB says 21,264 traditional PUJs have filed and complied with consolidation requirements as a prerequisite to join the modernization program. Out of the total, 934 are modern PUJs. Considering revised nationwide consolidation targets, the LTFRB expects a “topline estimate” of 73,380 units to be retained as a result of route rationalization and upgrades.

In June 2020, around 308 modern jeepney units compliant with requirements set by the Omnibus Franchising Guidelines (OFG) have been permitted by the agency to ply the 15 routes.

The LTFRB adds: “We are expecting that there are about 52,116 units who have yet to comply with the consolidation requirements for modernization.”

There are no further extensions to the Dec. 31 deadline as of date. “It is only because of the present pandemic that the LTFRB has extended the transition period to December 2020,” the LTFRB states. “Hence, even before the pandemic started in March 2020, operators are already aware of the consolidation requirement under the PUVMP and the deadline originally set.”

Paying for a million-peso ‘jeep’

At least 500,000 drivers, 3,000 operators, with their corresponding 2 million families, may be affected by the phase out of jeepneys, according to a primer by Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper and Opereytor Nationwide (PISTON) and the No to Jeepney Phaseout Coalition.

Many jeepney drivers form a cooperative (via registration with the Cooperative Development Authority) to comply with LTFRB requirements. A corporation (registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission) may also be formed, but the usual route is via cooperatives.

To form a cooperative, jeepney drivers need to shell out approximately ₱300,000 as downpayment, plus around ₱20,000 per unit included in the cooperative, according to Hya Bendaña, secretary-general of the Move as One Coalition. If there are 20 drivers in the cooperative, that adds up to around ₱700,000.

She asks: “Afford ba ‘yan ng jeepney drivers natin?”

Aside from the issue of organizing and consolidating jeepney drivers, operators, and units under registered cooperatives, the most painful impact — at least for drivers interviewed for this article — of the modernization plan is the cost of the new vehicle.

“Mistula itong hatol ng kamatayan para sa kanila na mawawalan ng hanapbuhay at kabuhayan,” according to the primer by PISTON and the No to Jeepney Phaseout Coalition. By their counting, drivers and operators cannot afford the following:

- E-jeep: From ₱800,000 to ₱1.2 million;
- Euro IV engine: From ₱1 million to ₱1.5 million;
- Solar powered engine: Up to ₱1.6 million

This does not include the add-on features (wifi, CCTV, etc.) required by the Omnibus Guidelines.

How will the drivers pay for this? The idea is they won’t — at least, not directly — as it is the registered cooperative or the corporation who will be tasked to pay for the new vehicles constituting the fleet, as part of the modernization plan is also to grant franchises to entities, and no longer to individuals.

Thus, if a cooperative applies its fleet of 15 jeepney units under the modernization program, it will need to pay at least ₱8 million (for e-jeeps) in total, or even more, should it avail of other vehicle types. The payment is through loan amortizations payable for seven years with six percent interest, which interest increases expenses incurred by the drivers for the unit.

The government provides a ₱160,000 (increased from ₱80,000) subsidy to answer for loan equity. Still, the bulk of payments is via the loan amortizations, for which the cooperatives, via earnings of the drivers, will need to raise funds for.

The scheme may be too much, especially for drivers who are still skeptical about the program, and who are adamant about keeping their own jeepneys and franchises, and are uninterested in joining local cooperatives.

A board member of the Mandaluyong Alliance Transport Service Cooperative, Elmer Carrascal gathers names of his fellow jeepney drivers who may qualify for financial aid. As of November, not all drivers in Mandaluyong have been allowed to resume plying their routes. Photo by JL JAVIER

“Oo nga, sinasabi ni [LTFRB] Chairman Delgra na 2017 pa naman ‘yan,” says jeepney driver Ernesto Cruz, president of the National Confederation of Transport Workers’ Union (NCTU). “Eh ang hirap nga hindi pa rin naniniwala ang mga operator,” he says.

“Paano mo ico-consolidate ‘yan at mag-practice kayo ng sistema, ‘yung iskema ng sistema… eh ang dami ngang hindi naniniwala?” he asks.

Press releases and relevant rules, regulations, and guidelines on the planned modernization are accessible online, such as the LTFRB website, and are reported occasionally on television. Leaders and active members of transport groups actively disseminate updates on this issue to their networks.

Still, some jeepney drivers may be left behind.

Severo Morales Alemanya, a 52-year old driver who used to ply the Gate 3-Guadalupe route, cannot resume jeepney driving because he has no QR Code (issued by the LTFRB to operators and drivers whose routes were allowed to resume during the pandemic). He stays home and relies on his four children to support him for now.

While he owns the franchise on his three jeepneys, he cannot bring himself to include his vehicles in the modernization program via his local cooperative. “Imbis na matapos ko bayarin sa loan sa sasakyan, papalitan naman ngayon,” he says. “Milyon ‘yung halaga.”

Alemanya says he would rather keep his vehicles as is. “Okay lang sa akin na wala ang prangkisa, pero basta ang mga jeepney ko, hawak ko,” he says. “Ano pang magagawa mo kung ganyan, walang halos tumulong kung anong kalabasan, kung papasadahin pa ba o hindi na?”

“Napakahirap,” he says. “Para kang nangangapa sa dilim.”

A modernization plan that fails to persuade (and may not have been properly explained by the government) may eventually lead to displacement and exclusion of jeepney drivers who feel that modernization — at least, this version — is anti-poor.

There is no other profession that Alberto Salvador, 25, would rather practice. “D’yan din ako binuhay, sa jeep,” he says. Photo by JL JAVIER

“Pang-mayaman lang naman ‘yan eh,” says Salvador, who plies the Queens Row-Zapote route. Like Alemanya, he is on his own. “Ayaw namin mag-miyembro [sa kooperatiba], indibidwal na lang kami. At least sa amin pa ‘yung sasakyan, sa amin ‘yung prangkisa. Kasi sa coop, sa kanila prangkisa.”

Commenting on the million-peso jeeps, he says: “’Di naman namin kayang bumili niyan.”

Another driver, Meneses, who earns around ₱300 a day (as opposed to ₱1,000 before the pandemic), says he barely earns enough these days. “Pagkain nga namin ‘di kami makabili, modernization pa kaya ng jeep?” he asks.

The government’s decision to push through with a modernization deadline could not have come at a worse time: during a lockdown triggered by a global pandemic. When traditional jeepneys were disallowed their routes during the pandemic, a 70-year old jeepney driver as reported here resorted to begging for money on the streets sometime in July.

At that time, government aid was found wanting, even though there are current efforts to provide some assistance to displaced drivers.

“Ngayong pandemic, the financial loss of the physical limitation….[is] being shouldered by our jeepney drivers,” says Bendaña of Move as One. “Walang sagot sa gobyerno doon, walang sagot sa LGU. Lahat siya napupunta sa jeepney drivers, the financial loss.”

Bendaña herself is the daughter of a jeepney driver. She points out that the majority of jeepney drivers are in the aging population (and therefore, may not be looking into shelling out money as they prepare to retire).

Severo Morales Alemanya, a 52-year old driver who used to ply the Gate 3-Guadalupe route, cannot resume jeepney driving because he has no QR Code. Photo by RAM ENDICO

“Si Lolo Efren…one of my lolos sa jeepney community, 60 years old na siya. Broken siya sa jeepney modernization program kasi ‘pag pinatay niya yung sasakyan niya, wala na siyang pagkikitaan,” she says. “Mawawalan siya ng maaasahang kita, kasi mababaon pa nga siya sa utang, kasi papa-utangin diba, seven years to pay. But for people like him na 60 years old, mahirap.”

Lolo Efren’s children, says Bendaña, are also jeepney drivers. “So lahat sila sabay-sabay na mawawalan ng kita, mawawalan ng kabuhayan.”

Thus, while the modernization plan in principle seems attractive, in practice, it passes on significant costs and expenses to the jeepney drivers themselves, an informal sector that, during the pandemic, has suffered huge losses. The last thing they may have needed is a government plan that requires them to shell out thousands, if not millions of pesos, at a time that has left so many Filipinos scrambling for financial aid.

A just transition?

There is no apparent lack of consultations, dialogues, or communications between stakeholders involved in the modernization plan. Still, while some suggestions are now being implemented, such as jeepney service contracting, other recommendations from concerned jeepney drivers groups may not be getting through.

“Ang problema natin, ang daming policy na hindi naman tumutugma doon sa kasalukuyang sitwasyon sa gusto nilang mangyari,” says Jaime Aguilar, NCTU secretary-general. “Parang kinakalburo nila yung modernization. ‘Yun bang hinog sa pilit.”

Darwin Tedigan, 21, has been a jeepney driver for two years. He plies the Alabang-Katarungan route. "Wala pahirapan kami kumita ngayong [pandemic] kaya nagt-tiyaga kami," he says. Photo by JL JAVIER

One way or another, jeepney drivers’ franchises will be consolidated and the informal sector will be formalized, says Aguilar. “Walang problema sa amin ang consolidation of franchise kasi dun siya papunta talaga eh, sa formalization of informal… And then, siyempre nakakatulong din ito sa pagpo-professionalize ng industriya, kasi ayun, kaniya-kaniya.”

He also agrees that something has to be done to reduce harmful carbon emissions. An expert cited here points out that while private cars outnumber jeepneys on the road, jeepneys emit more black carbon, an air pollutant recently identified to be a carcinogen, which is harmful to the public.

Looking at the bigger picture, however, phasing out jeepneys does not seem to be the immediate solution to the Philippines’ multifaceted problems on traffic, transportation, or climate. “Ang posisyon nga namin, bakit inuuna itong transport?” Aguilar asks.

According to NCTU president Cruz, “No to jeepney phaseout kami, without just transition.” To move forward, the group recognizes that they must strategically comply with the deadline; and at the same time, critically engage government agencies on policies that may not be apt for the industry. “Kinakailangan lang makita… kung paano ba tayo pupunta doon na hindi mawawalan ng hanapbuhay ‘yung mga ordinaryong driver at operator,” Cruz adds.

In any case, what jeepney drivers may need is more time: more time to adjust to the government’s plan, among others, as it entails not only changing jobs but changing professions, if not recreating a whole industry and building new skills and competencies. Perhaps most importantly, they need more time to save money for the new jeepney units.

“Dapat ay isinasaalang-alang ng government na gusto natin mag-modernize pero, [m]asasadlak naman sa utang sa bangko itong mga kooperatiba na ito,” says Romeo Macailao, an organizer and the president of a confederation of jeepney drivers in Batangas.

Macailao helped organize jeepney drivers in his locality and explained to them the government’s modernization plan. But while getting the drivers together was an achievement in itself, it did not mean they agreed nor desired to be part of modernization.

“Marami pa rin sa mga operator na sumali lang ng kooperatiba para lang maituloy ang kanilang hanapbuhay, pero ‘yung sasabihin mong sasama sila sa modernization? Maraming walang plano na,” he says. Some may have merely joined the cooperative to keep their options open, Macailao adds.

The concept and actual practice of organizing a cooperative (as required by the Omnibus Guidelines) is still new to most drivers and operators (who generally operate independently even within associations, or “kanya-kanya,” says Aguilar).

“Kailangan sila i-train sa capacity nila,” Aguilar says, at least for those who have expressed willingness to try the modernization plan, for now. “Leadership capacity, management capacity, kasi magbu-business na sila eh. Magpapatakbo na sila ng kooperatiba na daang milyon ang pinag-uusapang halaga.”

It should be pointed out that cooperative membership, or replacement of a unit does not rule out the displacement of a jeepney driver. For one, the approval of a local public transport route plan (LPTRP, a requirement for the issuance of franchises under the Omnibus Guidelines) may mean the reduction of franchises to be granted per route, if further study reveals there is less passenger demand therein, Macailao points out.

“Talagang may madi-displace,” he says. “So ngayon ang plano lang namin sa cooperative, ay ang ating mga operator na madi-displace… pwede silang ilagay doon sa mga negosyo, i-a-absorb sila ng cooperative pero hindi lahat.”

The pandemic drastically cut daily earnings of jeepney drivers, such as Martin Casela, to a fraction of what driving a jeepney yielded him before. “Two hundred twenty pesos lang [ang kinita ko] noong Sep. 14, kaya tumigil ako at nagtinda na lang ako,” he says. Photo by JL JAVIER

The role of LGUs

Another way forward for the industry (which has been suggested as early as 2017) is service contracting, an idea that’s just taking off the ground.

“What service contracting advocates is instead of being based on the number of passengers, it gives our jeepney drivers a reliable and guaranteed income,” Bendaña explains. Because income is based on the distance run, there would be no need for jeepney drivers to rush or race for passengers in the streets, or for them to wait in line until their vehicles fill up, or for excessive stopovers every time a passenger hails a ride. “[For] the side of the commuter, reliable ‘yung kanilang masasakyan,” she says.

Registration of jeepney drivers for the government’s service contracting program pushed through this November, with drivers receiving an initial ₱4,000 subsidy with a weekly pay-out depending on compliance with LTFRB requirements, including a “daily kilometer run” or a required distance that a vehicle needs to run in a day.

“Pang-mayaman lang naman ‘yan eh,” says Alberto Salvador, who plies the Queens Row-Zapote route.“’Di naman namin kayang bumili niyan.” Photo by JL JAVIER

A month prior, the LTFRB issued a memorandum circular setting out the parameters of service contracting, citing the allotment of approximately ₱5 billion in the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act to temporarily provide income to displaced public utility vehicle drivers during the quarantine.

Service contracting, as a permanent scheme, is envisioned to be an effort where local government units may also play a key role. According to Bendaña, Move as One is lobbying for counterpart funding from several key LGUs to implement service contracting programs, one locality at a time. Localities in Metro Naga and Cebu, as of writing, have expressed strong interest in service contracting, according to Bendaña.

“The best way… na makakapag-transition ang jeepney drivers natin is may service contracting and allowing our LGU to actually intervene and help their constituents,” Bendaña says. Drivers that may be left behind by the national modernization plan may still have a recourse locally. LGUs may pass their own ordinances and set aside funds, consistent with the Local Government Code, to implement service contracting. Beyond that, LGUs may also provide a flexible, expanded timeline for jeepneys to comply with modernization requirements, considering the costs.

The road ahead in 2021

With the deadline looming, and around 52,116 units, by LTFRB’s count, still non-compliant with the modernization program, many jeepney drivers are at a loss on how they will continue working for the new year.

“May pag-asa pa ba kung makabiyahe pa ba o ano?” jeepney driver Alemanya asks. “Kung may kinauukulan sana na makakausap kung ano ang balak sa gobyerno, kung papasadahin pa ba ang jeep, o phaseout, ano ba ang dapat gawin?”

Groups like NCTU say that that a phaseout will happen for those drivers not included in the program by the deadline. “’Pag hindi naglabas ng bago[ng] [deadline], walang extension ang LTFRB, that means tapos na ‘yan. Tapos na ‘yung consolidation, ngayon hindi ka nakapag-consolidate, madi-disgrasya ka next year,” says NCTU’s Aguilar.

“Hindi totoo ‘yung walang phaseout [in 2020],” he says. The phaseout, he adds, will happen in 2021.

On the other hand, the LTFRB states that “there is no threat to revoke franchises of the jeepney drivers, even those who have not formed cooperatives by the end of the year.” For those who will not consolidate franchises by year end, the LTFRB shall issue provisional authorities. “There is no such thing as phase out, so to speak,” the Board tells CNN Philippines Life.

The LTFRB also laid out its plans for those who may be displaced by the modernization plan by next year. The “Tsuper Iskolar” program in partnership with Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for one, provides free training “to enhance driving and road behavior skills or for those who decide to leave the transport industry,” with a budget of ₱350 million transferred in two tranches under the modernization program.

Those who decide to leave the industry, or will be displaced, may choose to be trained in any of the available livelihood courses offered by TESDA (which may vary per locality, a complete list of which is included here), including courses in agriculture, metals and engineering, information and communications technology, electronics, tourism, garments and textiles, automotives, construction, utilities, and health services. Those who remain may enroll in courses for automotive servicing, fleet management, and transport safety, among other related courses.

Danilo Meneses, who earns around ₱300 a day (as opposed to ₱1,000 before the pandemic), says he barely earns enough these days. “Pagkain nga namin ‘di kami makabili, modernization pa kaya ng jeep?” he asks. Photo by JL JAVIER

There are 9,632 graduates of this program (from the approved 11,313 beneficiaries) as of September 2020, according to the LTFRB, with room for around 8,000 to 11,000 more beneficiaries. Beneficiaries are provided with free skills training, assessment, entrepreneurship training, and a limited training allowance to cover food and transportation.

The LTFRB has also just started rolling out service contracting utilizing the budget under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, as discussed.

Setting aside the threat of displacement (which the LTFRB seeks to address above) another looming issue is the privatization of the transport industry. Transport and advocacy groups fear that the program will ultimately benefit corporations — corporations who have ventured into the modern jeepney transport industry, and foreign corporations who will profit from the manufacture of modern jeepneys — putting jeepney driver cooperatives at a disadvantage.

The LTFRB states that “the DOTr gives priority to existing transport service entities such as cooperatives and corporations willing to enter the PUV modernization program, provided that they comply with the set requirements.” As of August 2020, the office of Transportation Cooperatives (OTC) has accredited 1,269 transport service cooperatives to ply rationalized routes upon implementation.

Still, less than three weeks before the deadline, it seems like there is still a long way to go in resolving the demands of jeepney transport workers, on one hand, and the government’s drive to push through with its three-year plan, on the other. Yet stakeholders from transport groups, civil society, and government continue to engage as a new year beckons, while the fate of many jeepney drivers and their families, as well as other transport workers, hang in the balance.