Transport groups hold nationwide transport strike to protest government's PUV modernization program

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — For the second time this month, jeepney operators and drivers hold a nationwide transport strike and commuters are feeling the crunch.

The members of transport groups PISTON, Stop and Go Coalition, and No to Jeepney Phase-out Coalition are expected to gather at the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan City to kick off today's nationwide transport strike.

According PISTON President George San Mateo, this jeepney strike is not only happening in Metro Manila, but in over 20 cities and municipalities across the country.

San Mateo said this is their response to the government's inaction to their plea to scrap the current version of the jeepney modernization program of the government - which they believe is a phase-out.

The same groups also organized a similar nationwide transport strike last February 6.

The previous transport strike was resolved when officials of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) called for a dialogue which was attended by the transport leaders.

However, transport groups were unsatisfied with the results of the dialogue, and on the same day declared their intention to organize a much bigger strike – the one happening today.

San Mateo apologized to all affected commuters, but threatened if the government continues to be dismissive of their pleas, their groups will organize regular monthly strikes like this.

Transportation concerns

The jeepney groups are against the provision of the Transportation Department's order that will disallow jeepney models that are 16 years and older from plying their routes.

San Mateo said if they disallow these jeepney models, the government is actually phasing them out. He called this move a clear oppression of small jeepney operators and drivers, which will ultimately deprive them of their livelihood.

Apart from jeepneys, this modernization program also affects other types of public utility vehicles like buses and vans.

Commuters bearing the strain

Commuters in several parts of the Metro are feeling the effects of the strike this early in the day.

There are fewer jeepneys arriving in Philcoa, along Commonwealth Avenue as of six in the morning.

The jeepneys passing along the area are mostly full.

Passengers say that their Monday commutes are usually difficult, but it's made worse today because of the striking jeepney drivers.

The members of PISTON from Quezon City came here as early as 2 a.m., to express their grievances.

This group will be converging with other PISTON members all over Metro Manila in Mendiola before lunch time today.

The police and personnel from the MMDA have positioned themselves in the area – ready to assist the commuters.

In Monumento, the number of jeepneys ferrying commuters is growing smaller as the day progresses.

Some passengers here have been walking around, chasing available jeepneys. Others have been waiting for over 30 minutes hoping to get a ride.

Sonny Magalang, a commuter, said, "Lalo na mamayang ala-sais, agawan na 'yan tapos hindi na sila magpi-pick up... Inagahan ko para makapasok, pero hanggang ngayon hindi pa rin ako nakakasakay."

[Translation: Come 6 a.m., it will be difficult to get a ride. People will jostle each other to get a ride, but then jeepneys won't pick up passengers anymore... I got up early to go to work, but I haven't been cable to catch a ride up to now.]

The LTFRB and the Metro Manila Development Authority have pre-positioned government vehicles to offer free rides.

The LTFRB has also commissioned some buses to ferry commuters for minimal fees.

Some MMDA personnel and members of the police are also assisting passengers.

Class and work suspensions in several areas nationwide were declared on Sunday to ease the burden on commuters.

READ: #WalangPasok: Class and work suspensions for Feb. 27 due to transport strike

CNN Philippines correspondent Yumi Lugod contributed to this report.