TRANSPORT group Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON) — PHILIPPINE STAR/JESSE BUSTOS

By Jomel R. Paguian

A GROUP of jeepney drivers and operators filed a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday, seeking to declare null and void the department order and circulars implementing the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP).

The Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operators Nationwide (PISTON) filed a 57-page petition for a temporary restraining order against the Department of Transportation (DoTr) Omnibus Franchising Guidelines, which serves as the framework of PUVMP.

The petition also sought a preliminary injunction on the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) issuances mandating franchise consolidation and its year-end deadline.

PISTON, in their petition, argued that the mandatory consolidation requirement infringes on the constitutional right to freedom of association, rendering it unconstitutional. “The constitutionally guaranteed freedom of association includes the freedom not to associate.”

The PUVMP mandates drivers and operators to merge their separate franchises into a cooperative or corporation by Dec. 31 to obtain franchises for modern public utility vehicle (PUV) units. The group argued that this would initiate the phaseout of jeepneys, benefiting only financially capable large corporations able to meet consolidation requirements.

“Revoking franchises due to non-participation in cooperatives is a violation of the rights of drivers and operators,” PISTON national president Mody T. Floranda said in a statement. “They will be deprived of their livelihood simply because they didn’t join cooperatives.”

The transport group said that an estimated 140,000 drivers and 60,000 operators could be displaced and lose their jobs if the year-end deadline for franchise consolidation pushes through. The group added that around 28.5 million commuters nationwide will be affected, potentially leading to a “transport disaster” in January 2024.

“We urge the Supreme Court to act swiftly to save not only the livelihoods of drivers and operators, but also the well-being of commuters,” added Mr. Floranda.

In their petition, the transport group argued that the PUVMP is an improper exercise of police power. They asserted that the authority to impose a ban on traditional jeepney units falls within the domain of legislative bodies, emphasizing that the DoTr and the LTFRB are executive offices. The petition stated that the modernization plan has been implemented through department orders and circulars alone without any law in effect.

The petition also argued that the LTFRB has no authority to regulate transport cooperatives, stating that it is within the jurisdiction of the Office of Transportation Cooperatives (OTC).

The transport group asserted in their petition that jeepney drivers and operators are under pressure to surrender their jeepney units, which violates their constitutional right to livelihood.

“The subject circulars require forming and joining of cooperatives before small jeepney drivers or operators could avail of the equity subsidy. Ultimately, they mandate the surrender of jeepneys and thus violative on the right to gainful employment.”

Echoing a High Court ruling, the petition stated: “The power to regulate does not include the power to prohibit. The power to regulate does not include the power to confiscate.”

Apart from PISTON, representatives from Bayan Muna, No To PUV Phaseout Coalition, public transport advocacy group PARA, and commuters group Komyut, joined the petition.