The government’s Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) Modernization Program supposedly aims to transform vehicles, particularly traditional jeepneys, into “safe,” comfortable, and environmentally-friendly modes of transportation. However, this can only be achieved if old vehicles, aged over 15 years, are phased out. The issue of PUV modernization has been buzzing since 2016, and this fears about it have been additional burdens for various sectors of society, especially for jeepney drivers who already earn meager incomes.

The government plans to implement PUV Modernization through what it calls Franchise Consolidation, wherein 15 individual franchise holders are required to form a cooperative. Initially, the consolidation had a deadline on December 31, 2023, but was extended until January 31, 2024. This means that all jeepney drivers and operators who do not participate in the consolidation will not be allowed to operate their jeeps, and they will be considered “colorum” or illegal, according to the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

The modernization program is nothing but a blatant attack on the livelihoods of our jeepney drivers and outright torture for commuters. It is anti-poor, as the price of a modern jeep is more than 2 million pesos, making the lives of our jeepney drivers even more difficult. It will only exacerbate the transport crisis that our riding public and our country have been experiencing.

PUV Modernization will not serve its true purpose of improving the transport and traffic system, as the term “better” here means modernizing at the expense of our jeepney drivers, operators, and commuters. It is also a counterproductive policy to address the climate crisis, as it cannot guarantee lower pollutant emissions compared to our traditional jeepneys.

Moreover, we strongly denounce the police forces’ efforts to barricade the entrance of the protestors and jeepneys who were clamoring for a humane policy on modernization, in Mendiola on December 29, 2023..This act caused heavy traffic in the area, pitting private drivers and commuters against the jeepney drivers and their supporters protesting for their rights. It is a clear manifestation that the state counters peaceful protests, as these embody genuine calls that highlight the inaction and distorted priorities of the government.

We also vehemently condemn the LTFRB for issuing show cause orders to jeepney units in Angeles, Pampanga, for not being able to operate during the transport strike. The LTFRB, specifically LTFRB Chairman Teofilo Guadiz III, was irrational when they claimed that jeepney drivers who obtained a franchise should primarily consider the rights of the commuters before they can exercise their right to express themselves freely. With this statement, LTFRB proves a narrow understanding of the situation of jeepney drivers, subjecting freedom of association to polarized debates.

These violations of the human rights of drivers and commuters, these prohibitions on their freedom of opinion and expression should stop. The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), vows to discuss these violations with the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression. We will ensure that the transport sector will be highlighted and given support to continue peaceful protests against the inhumane policies of the government.

The CTUHR is in deep solidarity with PISTON and Manibela in their fight against the PUV Modernization program. We stand by their belief that no jeepney driver and operator should be left behind by modernization efforts and that the tactics of the government are detrimental to the transport system and the situation of the country. CTUHR stands for just transition, in which efforts to advance sustainable development should not leave behind workers and marginalized sectors of society — the very beneficiaries of genuine sustainable development.

The government’s PUV Modernization program is very inhumane, as its language prioritizes monetary gains for big corporations and corrupt politicians over the livelihood of jeepney drivers and a better transport system for commuters.