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Transport groups seek TRO vs PUV modernization before SC

Amid the impending deadline for the consolidation of public utility vehicles (PUV) operators, members of transport groups on Wednesday filed a petition before the Supreme Court seeking to stop the implementation of the PUV Modernization Program (PUVMP).

In the 56-page petition, they asked the SC to declare null and void several issuances of government transportation agencies, and issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) to prevent the respondents from enforcing the issuances.

Among the issuances mentioned are Department of Transportation (DOTr) Department Order No. 2017-11, which serves as the framework for the PUVMP, and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) MC 2023-051, which set the deadline for the consolidation.

The petitioners are PISTON chairman Modesto Floranda, Jason Jajilagutan, Bayan Muna party-list coordinator Gaylord Despuez, Para-Advocates For Inclusive Transport member Edric Samonte, No to PUV Phaseout Coalition of Panay member Elmer Forro, and Komyut spokesperson Ma. Flora Cerna.

On the other hand, the respondents are the Department of Transportation, represented by Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista, and the LTFRB, represented by its chairperson, Teofilo Guadiz III.

The filing followed a series of nationwide transport strikes as the government refused to further extend the Dec. 31, 2023 deadline for the consolidation.

The PUVMP, which started in 2017, aims to replace jeepneys with vehicles that have at least a Euro 4-compliant engine to lessen pollution and replace PUVs that are not roadworthy by the standards of the Land Transportation Office (LTO).

Each unit, however, costs over P2 million, an amount that even state-run banks LandBank and Development Bank of the Philippines said is too expensive for PUV drivers and operators. 

Meanwhile, the LTFRB earlier said PUV drivers and operators who fail to meet the deadline will not immediately lose their franchise to operate, but such a grace period will be limited.

In their petition, they argued that the issuances are overly broad and infringe on the constitutional freedom of association.

The petitioners cited Sta. Clara Homeowners' Association v. Spouses Gaston, where the SC said that the freedom of association includes the freedom not to associate.

"Through the requirement of consolidation, the individual franchise holders are essentially forced to join an association lest lose their right to ply their routes," the petition read.

According to the petitioners, the issuances also violate the Revised Corporation Code and Cooperative Code of the Philippines.

Moreover, they said the issuances constitute an invalid exercise of police power and a usurpation of legislative prerogative.

"The means used by the government in implementing the jeepney modernization program is unduly oppressive upon jeepney operators and drivers, rendering the assailed measure an invalid exercise of police power," they said.

"As discussed above, it violates the jeepney operators and drivers' right to substantive due process and right to gainful employment/livelihood and is thus confiscatory," they added.

They also claimed that the issuances violate the right to gainful employment and livelihood. The petitioners cited a previous ruling where the SC said that operating a jeepney is a property right that cannot be taken away arbitrarily.

"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," they said. — VDV, GMA Integrated News