TRANSPORT GROUP PISTON (Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide) conducted another protest action yesterday, its fourth against the public utility vehicle (PUV) modernization program of the government.

The group led a strike in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces, forcing some local government units to call for a suspension of classes.

By 2 p.m., the Office of the Executive Secretary ordered class suspensions in the entire capital.

Malacañang also announced that it is prepared to call for a week-long suspension should PISTON carry out its threat to continue with a nationwide strike.

Presidential Spokesperson Herminio Harry L. Roque, Jr. said: “If and when PISTON pushes through with its threat to continue its nationwide strike, despite its unsuccessful staging today, we will call for a class suspension in Metro Manila starting tomorrow, March 20 until Friday, March 23.”

PISTON President George San Mateo, in a social media post, reiterated their position that they “are not against modernization but we are against jeepney phase out that the government is pushing under the guise of the business of the modernization program.”

PISTON had previously said that under the jeepney modernization plan, operators will be deprived of their businesses due to the high cost of modern jeepneys.

The government has prepared loans for the acquisition of new vehicles through cooperatives or other forms of associations to transition to modern and energy-efficient jeepneys.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) said that as of 2:35 p.m., they have assisted 1,900 stranded passengers, which represent less than 1%, or exactly 0.0475%, of total ridership.

The Department of Transportation (DoTr), meanwhile, said in a statement: “There is no stopping the PUV Modernization Program. This is long overdue. Several attempts were made in the past to modernize PUVs, but did not flourish due to similar transport strikes, protests and harassment. The result? An outdated public transport system.”

The agency said it is open to “healthy dialogues” with groups who want to engage with the government regarding the program.

Mr. Roque also said, “We… remain committed to modernize our public utility vehicles. We see this as one of the long-term solutions to decongest our streets with dilapidated and smoke-belching jeepneys.” — Patrizia Paola C. Marcelo