No extension of deadline for PUV consolidation – Marcos

MANILA, Philippines — With China becoming bolder in harassing Filipinos and committing illegal activities in Philippine territorial waters, top military officials of the Philippines and the United States held a teleconference last Monday to discuss the need for them to work more closely in addressing pressing security issues in the region.

The phone meeting between Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. and Gen. Charles B rown Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US, came after a weekend of tension in the West Philippine Sea where Chinese coast guard and militia ships harassed and tried to drive away Philippine vessels on humanitarian missions in Ayungin Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc.

“The two agreed to maintain close coordination am idst worsening illegal activities of the China Coast Guard targeting rotation and re-provisioning missions and patrols of Philippine government vessels in the West Philippine Sea,” AFP public affairs office chief Col. Xerxes Trinidad said.

“They also discussed mutual strategic security interests and opportunities for increased military cooperatio n,” Trinidad added.

The AFP said the call reaffirms the militar y’s commitment to the Philippine-US alliance under the framework of the Mutual Defense Treaty as well as to upholding a rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific Region.

Interviewed over GMA’s Unang Hirit, Brawner denounced China’s lying about the incidents over the weekend.

“They (Chinese) distorted the story. I was there myself on board the supply boat Unaizah Mae, and I personally witnessed their harassment,” Brawner said.

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, in an earlier interview, noted that despite China’s increasing aggression, the Philippines would continue to assert its rights.

“We are going to comply with the President’s instructions to us to be firm in enforcing international law, by our own selves and more importantly with partner and like-minded countries of the world,” he said.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff website said that phone conversation between the two top military officials was the first since Gen. Brown became the chairman.

“The leaders also discussed mutual strategic security interests and opportunities for increased military cooperation, including enhancing maritime cooperation, improving interoperability and information sharing, and increasing training and exercises,” the JCS said in its post.

Meanwhile, National Security Council assistant director-general Jonathan Malaya said China’s latest water cannon attack against Philippine vessels in the West Philippine Sea won’t trigger the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between Manila and Washington.

“No, it cannot because it is not an armed attack. Under the MDT, it has to be an armed attack on a public vessel,” Malaya said in a chance interview last Monday at Malacañang.

“It is not an armed attack. it cannot be considered an act of war, according to our lawyers,” he added.

Signed by the Philippines and the US in 1951, the MDT seeks to enhance the defense capabilities of the two countries and allow them to jointly develop their capabilities to counter external armed attacks.

The Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows Filipino and American military forces to hold joint military drills in the Philippines, and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement which provides the US access to agreed Philippine locations, are offshoots of the treaty.

In their recent statements, US officials reiterated that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, would trigger Washington’s mutual defense commitments.

MANILA, Philippines — Citing humanitarian reasons, the House of Representatives released from detention yesterday two hosts of the Sonshine Media Network International.

SMNI co-hosts Jeffrey Celiz and Lorraine Badoy were cited in contempt and detained in the Batasang Pambansa following their appearance before the House committee on legislative franchises.

“The committee decided to release Jeffrey Celiz and Lorraine Badoy purely on humanitarian grounds. Dec. 13 is the last day of session and we do not want Mr. Celis and Ms. Badoy to spend their Christmas and New Year in detention,” panel head Parañaque City 2nd District Rep. Gus Tambunting said.

This developed as Sen. Risa Hontiveros will be requesting the Department of Justice (DOJ) to issue an immigration lookout bulletin order against Apollo Quiboloy to prevent him from leaving the country.

Quiboloy, a religious leader wanted in the US for sex trafficking of children, is the subject of complaints from former Kingdom of Jesus Christ followers.

“The proof is what I mentioned earlier, that the breadth of crimes and concerns about Quiboloy’s crimes is global, because he is already on the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) wanted list,” Hontiveros said.

“It is not bad if the DOJ and NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) contact their counterparts in the US to ensure that Quiboloy does not escape from the hands of the law and justice,” she added.

Hontiveros, chair of the Senate committee on women, children, family relations and gender equality, filed Senate Resolution 884 to probe Quiboloy’s alleged crimes.

She noted that her office is still verifying pending cases filed against Quiboloy.

At yesterday’s press conference, she presented video testimonies of two former followers of Quiboloy.

A certain Arlene recalled that she was 15 years old when she joined the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

The religious group brought her and other members from Davao to Manila to sell puto and kutsinta and beg for donations in the streets.

“I personally experienced a beating from Quiboloy. It was 60 slashes and I also experienced being humiliated in front of the members and workers of Quiboloy,” she claimed.

Another former member, Jackson, was recruited in 1999 along with other teenagers. He echoed Arlene’s allegations.

“Quiboloy is said to have strong connections with people in the government and politicians, so they can ignore these cases. I don’t believe that,” Hontiveros said.

Meanwhile, due to irresponsible reporting and concealing ties with a Chinese television firm, a measure that aims to revoke the franchise of Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) has been sent to the House committee on legislative franchises.

1-Rider party-list Rep. Ramon Rodrigo Gutierrez authored House Bill 9710, which would result in the revocation of SMNI’s 25-year franchise (Republic Act 11422).

“Having exposed SMNI’s multiple franchise violations, it is incumbent upon the House to exercise its mandate… by repealing RA 11422 in the interest of justice and the common good,” Gutierrez stated in the measure.

SMNI officials were forced to admit on Monday about their collaboration with China Global Television Network, where legislators warned about information dissemination in light of China’s stance in the West Philippine Sea.

“The operation of SMNI is considered a threat to national security and stability as it continues to use its platform to disseminate unverified and untruthful statements,” Gutierrez added.

He also pointed out that “mere inclusion of any change in ownership in the annual report is not the compliance” stated under the law, “considering that the SMNI is operating as a business that requires 100 percent Filipino ownership, and any change therein requires scrutiny and acquiescence by Congress to protect public interest.”

SMNI’s admission before the Tambunting committee that versions of the notarized annual reports they submitted were “different” from those they filed at the Securities and Exchange Commission are “acts of the grantee (SMNI that) should not be countenanced.”

Tambunting pointed out that the release order on Celiz and Badoy has nothing to do with the petition of writ of habeas corpus filed by their spouses before the Supreme Court (SC).

In defending their move to cite the SMNI anchors in contempt, Tambunting maintained that the SC has held that committees of Congress have the power to conduct investigations or inquiries in aid of legislation and to exercise its power of oversight.

“We have taken cognizance Mr. Celiz’s apology, his admission that what he mentioned was fake news and his earnest appeal to be released to attend to his ailing mother,” he said.

Tambunting was referring to the SMNI hosts’ “unverified” allegation that Speaker Martin Romualdez incurred P1.8 billion in travel expenses.

MANILA, Philippines — Days before the planned transport strike, President Marcos announced that the deadline for the consolidation of public utility vehicles (PUV) operators would not be extended, emphasizing that the program that seeks to modernize the sector should not be hampered by a minority.

The decision not to prolong the consolidation period was made during Marcos’ meeting with transport officials yesterday.

“Adhering to the current timeline ensures that everyone can reap the benefits of the full operationalization of our modernized public transport system. Hence, the scheduled timeline will not be moved,” the President said in a Facebook post.

Marcos disclosed that 70 percent of operators have committed to and consolidated under the PUV Modernization Program (PUVMP).

“We cannot let the minority cause further delays, affecting majority of our operators, banks, financial institutions and the public at large,” he said.

Transport group Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston) has announced plans to hold a transport strike from Dec. 14 to 15 to express its opposition to franchise consolidation, a key component of the PUVMP.

Piston, which also staged a three-day transport strike last month, claimed that the PUVMP would deprive thousands of transport operators and drivers of livelihood.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) said the PUV modernization program seeks to make commuting and public transportation operations “more dignified, humane and at par with global standards” and provide a “safer, more efficient, reliable, convenient, affordable, climate-friendly and environmentally sustainable” transportation system.

Under the program, launched in 2017, transport cooperatives will be formed and will be entitled to benefits like state subsidies and access to credit facilities to aid in modernizing their fleets and run them in a “systematic and predictable manner.”

Transport operators are required to consolidate by the end of the year.

As Marcos bucked the extension of the yearend deadline for consolidation, over 68,000 public utility vehicles stand to lose their franchises by the new year.

The LTFRB said 70 percent of PUVs have complied with the consolidation requirement of the PUVMP.

The agency added that a total of 153,787 units of jeepneys, UV Express and buses are set to be consolidated by Dec. 31, which leaves 68,830 PUVs that could be left without franchises and will not be allowed to ply their routes starting Jan. 1, 2024.

Piston warned that it could paralyze transportation in Metro Manila and that over 100,000 workers could join the strike.

“The government is sloppy in its entire modernization plan so they are just forcing it. The people will bear the brunt of their sloppiness,” the group said in Filipino in a statement.

Despite the bleak numbers, the LTFRB said the 70 percent consolidation rate exceeds its 65 percent target for the more-than-six-year long PUVMP.

Data from the agency showed that a total of 262,653 transport operators, drivers and workers have joined the PUVMP and have consolidated into entities.

There are now a total of 1,739 formed cooperatives nationwide.

Piston claimed that these figures are misleading and that jeepney consolidation in the National Capital Region (NCR) is only at 26 percent while this could be at 36 percent for UVEs.

The LTFRB earlier said there would not be a transport crisis and that they are ready to address any possible gaps once the consolidation deadline has passed.

LTFRB chairman Teofilo Guadiz III said they welcome the support of some transport groups, which staged an assembly on Mendiola, Manila and Quezon City for the PUVMP.

“The modernization program is crucial for uplifting the overall quality of public service, and we look forward to its positive impact on the commuting experience for all,” Guadiz added.

The lack of safety nets for drivers and operators who will bear the brunt of the Dec. 31 consolidation deadline for the public PUVMP should warrant its review, according to Sen. Grace Poe.

Poe, who chairs the Senate committee on public services, yesterday warned that pursuing the Dec. 31 consolidation deadline would affect thousands of drivers who have yet to organize themselves into cooperatives.

“You can’t blame the drivers who are afraid to join the cooperative because of the amount of funds needed, and the DOTr (Department of Transportation) has no training in managing money and PUV units,” she said in Filipino.

The senator also said that to date, only 9.5 percent or 155 of the 1,575 local government units have approved route plans, a requirement in the PUVMP.

“It is alarming to see that the protections we advocated for drivers in the PUVMP fund were not approved,” she added.

For 2024, Poe said the PUVMP program would get a P1.6-billion budget, but it does not include measures to protect the livelihood of some 300,000 drivers.

“We were promised to study the program again before any deadline this December. But it’s still like the past six years – all we’re getting here at the Senate are promises,” she added.

Funds have been set aside for the DOTr since 2018 to formulate a route plan for PUVs, according to the senator.

She stressed that the route rationalization study is a crucial component of the program, since it will determine the number of jeepneys, UV express and buses needed to ply a particular route, which will ensure the viability of their operations.

“Why are there so many deadlines and requirements for the driver while the DOTr and LTFRB deadlines for their route are not fulfilled,” Poe said.

“Now, they are promising again that there will be an approved route for half of the country by June 2024, but since this provision is not in the budget, we will probably have to rely on nothing,” she added.

Of the P2.5 million cost per unit of modern jeepney, the government will subsidize only 8.4 percent or P210,000.

Poe said the government would need at least P63 billion, which is not in the 2024 budget, to subsidize around 300,000 PUV units.

She said PUV drivers could not be blamed for organizing another transport strike to air their legitimate concerns against the PUVMP.

Poe had filed Senate Bill 105 to ensure a “just and humane public utility vehicle modernization program” by providing affordable loans to jeepney drivers and cash subsidies to those who would not be able to comply with the new policies.

The measure is still being tackled at the Senate.

“Our call for a thorough study and reform of PUVMP before the DOTr imposes deadlines is reasonable. I also call on my colleagues to help us prioritize the enactment of the just and humane PUV Modernization Act.”

For militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Marcos is courting disaster in the transport sector with his refusal to extend the Dec. 31 deadline for public utility vehicles to consolidate their franchises.

Citing data from the DOTr, Bayan president Renato Reyes said only 57 percent of PUJs and 65 percent of UVEs have consolidated their franchises nationwide.

Reyes added that Marcos’ decision not to extend the deadline would result in a massive displacement of operators and drivers, which “will be disastrous for millions of Filipinos.”

“Marcos appears to be OK with thousands of drivers and operators in the NCR losing their livelihood and hundreds of thousands of motorists inconvenienced by the lack of public mass transport,” Reyes said in a statement.

He added that the Chief Executive’s decision showed that he has no empathy for the riding public even during the Yuletide season.

Reyes said they sympathize with drivers who have no other recourse but to go on strike to stop the loss of their livelihood. – Romina Cabrera, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Emmanuel Tupas

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