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UPDATED 10:30 a.m. - Some 5,000 cops were deployed in key areas in Metro Manila as the militant group Pagkakaisa ng Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON) started its transport strike early on Monday to protest against successive fuel price hikes. In an interview over radio dzBB, Metro Manila police head Chief Superintendent Alan Purisima said the police personnel were deployed to areas most likely to be affected by the strike. Purisima said PISTON officials assured them that they will not create trouble but merely express their sentiments about the continuous rise in fuel prices. “May intindihan na hindi manggugulo kundi magpapahayag ng damdamin sa oil price hikes," he said.
Meanwhile, Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas II met with some officials of PISTON in Cubao, Quezon City as the strike began. "(Ang instruction ni pangulo), subaybayan at imonitor ang situation. Ang punto ko rito ano ang nasa batas yan ang papairalin," Roxas said in an interview on dzBB radio. President Benigno Simeon Aquino III left for a state visit to the United States on Sunday. He also appealed to youth groups engaged in "planking" not to make a big issue of the transport strike by disrupting traffic. Earlier reports indicated militant youth groups snarled traffic along España in Manila by lying face down on the road every hour on the hour. "Sa hindi sa transport sector, huwag na natin palakihin ito (To those not in the transport sector, let's not further disrupt everyday life)," Roxas said. PISTON and its allied groups led a transport strike in Metro Manila and several provinces Monday to protest the rise in fuel prices. Earlier, a report on dzBB radio said PISTON intends to stage a strike not only in Metro Manila but also in provinces, including several areas in Mindanao: General Santos City Sarangani South Cotabato Davao del Sur Caraga region Northern Mindanao, including Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and Gingoog Cities; and Bukidnon. Peaceful strike In northern Metro Manila, radio dzBB’s Manny Vargas reported that PISTON members went around the Monumento Circle in Caloocan City aboard jeepneys urging drivers to join the strike. Along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, dzBB’s Benjie Liwanag Jr. said militant groups held programs by the roadside but did not resort to intimidation or violence to force other drivers to join the strike. In Cubao, also in Quezon City, radio dzBB’s Rodil Vega reported that commuters took other forms of transportation like FX taxis as some jeepney drivers took off the signboards on their jeeps to join the strike. "Oplan Grasshopper" Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is implementing its “Oplan Grasshopper" to assist commuters and deal with troublemakers as a nationwide transport strike starts. Oplan Grasshopper is a joint program of the MMDA, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), and the Department of Education (DepEd). MMDA Assistant general manager for operations Emerson Carlos said as early as 5:00 a.m., some 450 inter-agency personnel assembled in Makati City to help minimize the effects of the transport strike. Carlos said they readied 22 trucks, including those from the military, for their “Libreng Sakay" (Free Ride) program. “Meron din tayong MMDA bus, may sufficient number. May bus companies nag-volunteer ng tulong nila," he said. Carlos also said “Oplan Grasshopper" also involves roving prosecutors who will charge troublemakers, particularly those who block the paths of jeeps that ply their routes. The prosecutors will also go after those who will place spikes on the road to damage the tires of jeeps. Choke points in Mindanao Meanwhile in Iligan City and Lanao provinces in Mindanao, protesters belonging to the Bagong Alayansang Makabayan and Coalition of Lanao Transport Utilities established "choke points" in several strategic areas. Police Senior Superintendent Celso Regencia, Philippine National Police Iligan City director said protesters were allowed to stage a strike as long as they would comply with certain conditions such as not wearing bonnets while protesting, prohibiting the use of road spikes, and that the organizers would police their own ranks. Regencia also said Philippine Army personnel are helping the police maintain peace and order while the nationwide transport strike is going on. - VVP, GMA News