MANILA – Thousands of drivers of the Philippines’ iconic jeepney vehicles joined a two-day nationwide strike on Monday in protest against a government scheme to replace and modernize the minibuses.
At various points around Manila, groups of dozens of striking jeepney drivers staged pickets, carried placards and flags, and partially blocked roads.
Their placards – most of which had messages in Tagalog – read “Trash the jeepney phase out.”
Some striking drivers, preparing for a long day of protesting, were seen cooking noodles on the side of the road.
In the absence of jeepneys – a common mode of transportation for many Filipinos – authorities have deployed government buses and military trucks to help stranded commuters, whose numbers will reportedly increase as evening approaches.
The yellow flags of the Piston Partylist organization – one of the organizers of Monday’s strikes – were prominent at several picket locations.
That group represents the interests of drivers and jeepney owners in the Philippine Congress.
One protester said that he believes only President Rodrigo Duterte can satisfy jeepney drivers and operators’ demands, and he urged the president to make a decision on refurbishing their old vehicles instead of phasing them out.
The government’s modernization program would see jeepneys older than 15 years phased out and replaced with ecologically-friendly vehicles, such as e-jeepneys or solar-powered ones.
The Stop & Go Transport Coalition, which organized a smaller-scale jeepney strike in late September, said in a Facebook post at the time that the phase-out plan would force jeepney drivers into debt because the bank would lend them money to purchase the new vehicles, while it would buy their old minibuses for a much smaller sum.
Though a convenient and affordable transportation method for many people in the Philippines, jeepneys have been criticized as unsafe and sources of air pollution.