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Palace warns transport group of strike's consequences

(Updated 12:45 a.m., Sept. 16) Malacañang on Thursday warned that a transport group may be violating its franchise obligations with the planned nationwide strike next Monday and should be prepared to face the consequences of inconveniencing the riding public. At a press briefing, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said transport groups may use other terms for the strike but the consequences remain the same. “May iba silang… more euphemistic term — transport holiday — in order to avoid incurring the consequences as holders of a franchise. There are consequences. You are responsible. You have rights and obligations in that franchise that you hold," he said. “Kung sila po ay lumabag sa kanilang prangkisa, we will take appropriate action. This government means business. We want the franchise holders to be responsible in upholding their certificates of public convenience," Lacierda added. The chief Palace spokesman said that during President’s dialogue with the transport groups last Wednesday, jeepney operators and drivers were more concerned about the extortion activities of erring government personnel and police officers. Also raised were problems with the single-ticketing system, according to Lacierda.
During the meeting, Aquino ordered a review of the Oil Deregulation Law, among other instructions to concerned departments and agencies, to address the concerns of transport groups and ease the impact of rising fuel prices. The Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (PISTON) said it will push through with its nationwide strike on Monday, Sept. 19, despite the Wednesday’s meeting in Malacañang. Radio dzBB reported that PISTON secretary-general George San Mateo was dismayed with the outcome of the meeting. He said they received no concrete answers the President regarding their concerns. Contingency measures Lacierda said government is ready to help commuters who will be affected by the transport strike. “The MMDA [Metropolitan Manila Development Authority] is prepared to handle the situation. We have coordinated with them as well so kung sakaling sila po ay matutuloy, handa po ang gobyerno for the sole purpose of making sure that the riding public will not be jeopardized," he said. Lacierda addressed his appeal to members of PISTON. “I think, to the members of the PISTON... I think you should really analyze whose interests are they serving. Is it your interest that mawawalan po kayo ng kita po sa mga araw na kayo ay magwe-welga? Kanino pong interes po ba ang [pinagsisilbihan] ng mga liderato po ng PISTON? Inyo po ba o ang kanilang pansariling paniniwala?" Lacierda said. Asked if the Palace would appeal to transport organizations not to push through with their planned mass action, Lacierda said there was no indication, during Wednesday’s meeting, that the transport sector will go on a strike. “Wala kasi kaming narinig na sentimiento na ipagpapatuloy ‘yung strike even si Mr. San Mateo — Mr. PISTON — didn’t even raise that concern yesterday (Wednesday)," he said. “We did not hear anyone speak of a transport strike. We hope that they will — after the dialogue yesterday — that they are convinced of the sincerity and the genuineness of our concern for them and that, except for PISTON, that they will desist from pursuing actions that they pronounced prior to the dialogue," he added. Recent transport strikes In March this year, jeepney transport groups went on strike. In November 2010, bus operators and drivers in Metro Manila and some provincial routes carried out their “holiday" in protest of the implementation of the MMDA’s number-coding system. Some bus operators then claimed they did not go on strike, reasoning out that fewer buses were on the road because they were complying with the number-coding system. Other bus firms said their drivers were late or did not report from work on Nov. 15. But after last year’s “transport holiday," the MMDA and Land Transportation, Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) did not accept the claims of bus operators. The LTFRB issued “Notices to Explain" to at least 74 bus operators to justify why they should not be penalized for going on strike. The March 31 protest action of the jeepney transport groups came after successive waves of fuel price increases since January of this year. The Alliance of Concerned Transport Organizations (ACTO) was the lead group while the PISTON initially did not join, but participated in the strike. Fuel subsidy The prelude to the jeepney strike and the strike itself compelled the Aquino administration to create and implement the fuel subsidy scheme for public utility jeepneys and tricycles. The fuel subsidy was meant to cushion the impact of fuel price hikes on the operators, drivers and their dependents. According to the Department of Budget and Management, the government spent P450 million for the fuel subsidy and got the budget from the Malampaya gas field royalties account, also known as Fund 151. The National Treasurer said, during a Senate hearing last Wednesday, Fund 151 has a balance of P99.45 billion. When the Department of Energy started distributing the fuel subsidy cards last May, its officials said the program was open-ended and the cards could be loaded with more credits if funds would later become available. Then last July, Energy Secretary Jose Almendras said the fuel subsidy could be extended. — ELR/MRT/VS, GMA News