Struggling drivers and owners of the iconic Philippine jeepneys have appealed to the government to allow them to resume operations in Manila in order to survive the Covid-19 crisis. However, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said jeepneys would remain suspended to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the capital. Roque also said the government was following a “hierarchy of public transport modes” for trains, buses, modern public utility vehicles (PUVs), UV Express (public vans or minibuses) and jeepneys. “The hierarchy of public transport will be observed. We will first use PUVs, then UV Express. Then, followed by the traditional jeepneys. If public transport is still not sufficient, that’s the time we will consider jeepneys,” Roque said in a July 1 press conference. He said jeepneys were the last priority because of their face-to-face seating arrangement that allowed direct transmission of the virus.
The jeepney is the most popular form of public transport in the Philippines and known for its crowded seating and cheap fares. It originally came from the United States during World War II. American soldiers left their jeeps after the war and they were modified by Filipinos for public transport. Jeepney operators had earlier told President Rodrigo Duterte they would observe necessary health protocols if allowed to operate. “We are very disappointed that we cannot resume operations despite the fact that we are very much ready to observe the protocols set by the government,” said Rosalino Marable, president of the Coalition of Jeepney Operators and Drivers in the Philippines. Marable cited the story of an elderly driver whose story went viral on social media after he was found begging on Manila’s streets. “Alberto [the name of the jeepney driver] is one among thousands who lost their income due to Covid-19 quarantines. That’s how poor we are today. We are so poor that we already need to beg in order to survive,” Marable told UCA News on July 1. Jeepney driver association PISTON has also said its members were going hungry with debts piling up. “Jeepney drivers need to live. We need to adapt to this pandemic. But we need to earn a living, otherwise we will starve,” said George San Mateo, PISTON’s former national president. Bishop Arturo M. Bastes of Sorsogon has appealed for aid and donations from local dioceses for drivers. “I call on fellow brothers and sisters in the faith, please help our dear jeepney drivers by donating food and other essential goods. They have been very helpful to our nation’s transport sector,” said Bishop Bastes in a statement. “Many of our countrymen finished school and went to work by riding jeepneys. Perhaps this is the time to recognize their hard work.”
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