MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang fended off criticisms over the negative impact of President Rodrigo Duterte's two-day suspension of government work and classes due to the transport strike, saying everybody should pitch in as part of "nation building."
Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella made the statement in a press briefing on Tuesday, October 17, when asked about reduced government productivity, non-payment of wages for government contractual workers, and reduced school days for students during the Palace-ordered work and class suspension.
"You know, we have to see all of these things in terms of nation building. Everybody pitches in. You know, when there is a need to belt-tighten there, everybody belt-tightens," Abella said.
The President ordered the suspension of government work and classes on Monday, October 16, the first day of a nationwide transportation strike "to minimize public inconvenience arising from the planned nationwide transportation strike."
Past 10 pm on Tuesday, Duterte decided to order the suspension despite the recommendations of the Joint Quick Response Team on Transportation (JQRT) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).
Abella initially said Malacañang would not extend the suspension to Tuesday, October 17, since the protest action supposedly "barely affected the riding public."
LTFRB board member Aileen Lizada said the transport strike had only a "minimal" effect. (READ: Jeepney riders feel effects of transport strike)
Concern for students
Abella said on Tuesday that according to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Duterte decided to declare the Tuesday suspension out of concern for students.
"As explained to me last night by ES (Executive Secretary), he says the President was highly concerned, especially, specifically with students who may be caught in no transport and inclement weather," said the Palace spokesman.
"He is also acting like a parent actually. He’s actually looking at the greater protection, greater safety of students," Abella added.
Asked if make-up classes will be held to make up for the lost school days, Abella said this would be up to the Department of Education.
The two-day strike was organized by groups like the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston), No to Jeepney Phase-out Coalition, and Kilusang Mayo Uo.
Participants called on government to drop its public utility vehicle (PUV) modernization program, slamming it as "anti-poor" since it requires drivers to buy new jeepneys and would supposedly lead to a loss in jobs.
The Department of Transportation, however, disputed this, saying the government is offering a "generous" loan program to help jeepney drivers and operators purchase new vehicles and keep their operations profitable.
The modernization program also wants jeepney drivers to receive standard salaries as opposed to the widely practiced boundary system. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.