MANILA, Philippines – In its proposed budget for 2020, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) does not have any approved allocation for the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP), whose transition period runs until July next year.
The PUVMP was among the projects cut by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) when it finalized the national budget. This prompted the DOTr, during a House hearing last September 5, to ask for budget augmentation of P1.5 billion for road projects.
The modernization program was brought up again during a Senate hearing on the DOTr's budget on October 3, pushing the transport agency to reevaluate its targets for the program.
The Senate hearing showed that only 3% of the target number of modernized units has been operationalized, 3 years since the start of the program's transition period.
To add, senators found the subsidy and loan programs provided for affected drivers and operators ineffective, since only a few of them would avail. At its cheapest, drivers and operators would have to pay a P500 amortization rate per day.
One of the components that will cease to be funded is the social support for drivers and operators under the Tsuper Iskolar program of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).
The program had offered free skills training and free skills assessment to persons who would be displaced by the PUVMP; those who voluntarily exited, continue, or were new to the transport industry; and family members of affected stakeholders. These beneficiaries were also given free entrepreneurship training, and food and transportation allowance.
Under the PUVMP, the LTFRB had vowed to establish an academy to train drivers and operators on safety measures and etiquette while operating PUVs.
In the past, transport strikers had said that the PUVMP would only lead to displacement and loss of livelihood among drivers and operators, since only big companies would be able to afford the required fleet management system of a minimum of 10 units per franchise. A modernized unit is worth around P1 million, which is beyond the means of small-time drivers and operators.
As September ended, another nationwide transport strike was held to protest the government's method of public utility vehicle modernization. Operators and drivers called for rehabilitation, not replacement of their PUVs. However, LTFRB Chairman Martin Delgra III maintained that the program would push through.
In 2018, the PUVMP had an P843-million budget, which was allocated for training programs, the Davao Public Transport Study, interregional route planning, a communications campaign, and funds for the Office of Transport Cooperatives and Project Management Office (PMO).
This year, the program had a reduced budget of P447 million. The training programs, information education campaign, and PMO funds remained intact, albeit with much smaller allocations. Two new line items were introduced: the Tsuper Iskolar program and the PUVM "support infra database," which is technology-based recording system for franchises. Route planning and transport studies were not among the funded components.
Loreben Tuquero is a researcher-writer for Rappler. Before transferring to Rappler's Research team, she covered transportation, Quezon City, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government as a reporter. She graduated with a communication degree from the Ateneo de Manila University.