Thousands of commuters in Manila and other Philippine cities were stranded Monday as transportation workers staged a strike against government plans to phase out the country’s colorful mini-buses, better known as jeepneys.
Jeepney drivers began their strike shortly before the morning rush-hour. They waved signs denouncing the government as they converged in key areas of the capital and other urban centers.
The strike was called to protest the government’s transportation modernization program, which would replace the jeepneys with new vehicles costing 2.5 million pesos (U.S. $48,000) each, said Efren de Luna, president of the Alliance of Concerned Transport Organizations.
“We are not against modernization. What we are protesting are the requirements that will lead nowhere but to the phase out of small operators like us,” de Luna said. “We need to talk with the Office of the President because otherwise, it would just be fake meetings where attendance will be taken but nothing will happen.”
The jeepneys, a symbol of Philippine culture and art, originally were made from American military jeeps left behind after World War II. Known for being crowded with passengers and belching black smoke, the vehicles are the main mode of transportation for many urban dwellers in big cities here.
Celine Pialago, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Manila Development Agency that handles traffic for the capital and surrounding suburbs, said the agency reacted to the strike by deploying trucks to ferry stranded commuters.
“The situation in areas where there were stranded passengers returned to normal as early as 8:30 a.m. Several areas suspended Monday’s classes due to the transport strike, while some local governments including Pasig, Manila and Marikina offered free rides,” Pialago said.
Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the program to phase out jeepneys gradually through 2020 was expected to continue.
“The government will not be intimidated nor cowed by threats of protests and strikes coming from those who only think of their own parochial interest,” Panelo said in a statement.