PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte unleashed tirades against transport and militant groups that staged a two-day nationwide strike to oppose government plans for public utility vehicle (PUV) modernization, saying that he did not care whether they went hungry as he accused them of conspiring with communist rebels.

“I give you until the end of the month, or until the end of the year, sumunod kayo because Jan. 1 pag may makita ako dyan mga jeep ninyo na walang, hindi narehistro, luma, guguyurin ko yan sa harap ninyo. Jan. 1 ’pag di niyo na-modernize ’yan, umalis kayo. Mahirap kayo? Putangina magtiis kayo sa hirap at gutom ’la ako pakialam, (If you do not modernize by Jan. 1, leave, if not I will forcibly pull you out. You are poor? (expletive), then suffer in poverty and hunger, I do not care),” Mr. Duterte said yesterday in a speech during a federalism forum and oath taking of new members to his party PDP-Laban in Camarines Sur.

Mr. Duterte was referring to the group Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON), which organized a nationwide strike with support from the labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) on Oct. 16-17.

Malacañang suspended government work and classes in private and public schools during the two-day strike.

Mr. Duterte accused the protesting groups of committing rebellion and being allied with the Communist Party of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front (CPP-NDF) as well as the New People’s Army (NPA), the CPP’s armed wing.

“CPP-NDF pati the NPA… it’s of one big conspiracy but they are at the same time, all of them are committing right now, rebellion. It’s one big conspiracy,” Mr. Duterte said, noting that PISTON head George San Mateo was wearing a cap with the communist star insignia during yesterday’s rally.

Sought for comment, Mr. San Mateo said Mr. Duterte was merely dragging the issues with communist rebels into the transport discussion and ignoring the concerns of drivers and operators.

Mr. Duterte, upon assumption into office last year, immediately initiated peace talks with the CPP-NDF, but cancelled it in May this year following calls by the communist leadership for the NPA to intensify attacks.

“The President did ‘red-baiting’ when the issue here is legitimate. It involves the lives of hundreds of thousands of jeepney drivers and small operators,” Mr. San Mateo said in Filipino and English via phone interview.

Mr. San Mateo added that it was Mr. Duterte himself who told PISTON via its allied left-leaning groups like KMU to hold a strike before engaging them in talks regarding modernization.

“In a dialogue prior to SONA (State of the Nation Address), with KMU, Bayan, it was relayed to us that it was he (Mr. Duterte) who said ‘Let’s talk about it some other time, hold a strike first, then we’ll talk’. Then why has he reacted that way now? Why is he annoyed when he was the one who told us to launch the strike?”

The PISTON leader said it is now up to the President to initiate a new dialogue with them.

Meanwhile, the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) said it will file a new case against Mr. San Mateo for organizing the strike.

“We filed one (case) three weeks ago. This one is another case,” LTFRB Board Member Aileen Lourdes A. Lizada told BusinessWorld in a text message.

Ms. Lizada said they will be filing a new case of violation of the public service law against the transport group leader.

The regulatory agency is also planning to cancel the franchises of jeepneys whose drivers and operators joined the strike.

“All those who participated in the two-day strike, we will cancel their franchises,” Ms. Lizada told reporters in another message. The LTFRB is still finalizing data on the number of jeepneys involved.

Ms. Lizada said the franchise cancellation is in accordance with LTFRB Memorandum Circular 2011-004, which states that “the holder of a franchise cannot suspend, cease, or stop operations as a sign of protest or objection to any government…decision,” and that doing so can result in suspension or cancellation of franchises.