PHILIPPINES--Transport Strike Cripples Southern Mindanao, Strikers Protest Rising Petro Prices : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread


Transport strike cripples Southern Mindanao, Visayas

By Edith Regalado and Leo Solinap March 18, 2000

DAVAO CITY - In the runup to the planned nationwide transport strike on Monday, two rival public transportation groups in Southern Mindanao joined forces and went on strike yesterday.

Thousands of commuters and employees were stranded, forcing most businesses to close as strikers protested against rising petroleum prices, the oil deregulation law and a proposed road user's tax.

National and government employees were told to take the afternoon off. Most schools canceled classes although the Department of Education, Culture and Sports and the Commission on Higher Education issued no formal announcement of a suspension of classes.

In Iloilo, some taxis still plied their routes but their number dwindled later in the day.

Protest leaders claim the strike paralyzed about 98 percent of the region. Alvin Luque, a spokesman of Katawhan Kontra Kartel which organized the strike, said public transportation in Davao, Iloilo, Roxas, Capiz, Tagum and other major cities and towns was immobilized.

Luque's group is affiliated with the militant transport organization Transport in Mindanao for Independence, Solidarity and Nationalism (Transmission), one of the two groups that went on strike.

He said there will be more protests, and that they will join the planned March 20 nationwide strike which Malacaqang is trying to avert.

After meeting with transport leaders at the Palace yesterday, President Estrada appealed to the protesters to keep it peaceful even though one of the big transport groups called off the mass action last Thursday.

In Davao, the city government deployed about 45 buses to ferry stranded people although Mayor Benjamin de Guzman supported the strike.

The protest was peaceful. Davao City Police Office director Joselito Pomperada said no untoward incidents were reported. About 300 policemen patrolled the city's major streets.

Manuel Duran, president of the moderate South Eastern Mindanao Diversified Drivers and Operators Cooperative, which joined forces with Transmission, said most of the group's 5,000 members supported the strike.

At Malacaqang, Mr. Estrada had talks for half an hour with transport leaders led by Romy Maranan, president of the Confederation of Land Transportation Association of the Philippines (COLTAP). Also at the meeting were Interior and Local Government Secretary Alfredo Lim and Philippine National Police chief Deputy Director General Panfilo Lacson.

Mr. Estrada got assurances from the transport leaders that they will not go on strike Monday. They called off the protest after Congress softened the road user's tax bill which Mr. Estrada had earlier threatened to veto.

The new tax will come in the form of higher fees on vehicle registration. But because of mounting protests, Congress cut the fee increase from 500 percent to 100 percent. The increase would be implemented over a four-year period.

Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora told The STAR yesterday that the President will now sign the bill. Mr. Estrada will also issue an executive order amending EO 197 that raised national government fees on various public services by more than 20 percent.

Zamora said under the new EO, fees such as those for driver's licenses and permits would be raised by "no more than 20 percent."

Despite his decision to call off Monday's strike, Maranan said he cannot stop other militant groups from pushing on. The militant Pinagkaisahang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (Piston) said it will go on strike, as well as the Integrated Metro Bus Operators Association and the Philippine Confederation of Drivers' Organizations-Alliance of Concerned Transport Operators.

Piston president Medardo Roda criticized COLTAP for backing down. "At a time when the government could not protect us from abusive oil manufacturers and dealers, we don't want any increase in registration fees. This will only make it hard for us to meet the needs of our family," Roda said.

In an earlier interview on radio station dzMM, Mr. Estrada said the protesters are free to express their sentiment.

"It's up to them. I can answer any issues. I believe all our actions were for the benefit of the greater majority. So don't worry," the President said.

But he did try to dissuade militant transport groups from pushing through with their planned protest, saying he has no control over rising world crude prices.

"Not even the president of the United States, the most powerful in the world, President Clinton, can do anything to stop the increase in (oil) prices," Mr. Estrada pointed out.

The transport leaders also aired their other concerns to the President, like the planned increase in fees for drivers' licenses and franchises.

They also asked PNP chief Lacson to go after policemen mulcting motorists.

Maranan said Mr. Estrada has assured them that public hearings would be conducted before any increase in the fees are implemented by the Land Transportation Office and the Land Transportation, Franchising and Regulatory Board.

Meanwhile in Manila, the Western Police District has put its men on alert in case the transport strike pushes through on Monday. WPD director Chief Superintendent Avelino Razon Jr. said he has mapped out contingency plans to keep out trouble.

"I have ordered the Crowd Dispersal Management Team, the 11 police stations and commanders of police community precincts to be on alert on Monday and to be prepared for the worst," Razon said.

Razon said they have hired buses to ferry stranded commuters. Policemen will ride in the buses to ensure the safety of passengers and drivers.

"We have asked for precautionary measures from Secretary Lim to secure those public transport drivers who will ply their routes," Maranan said.

Razon has also ordered his men to guard vital installations such as the oil depots in Pandacan, telecommunication networks and Malacaqang Palace. Foot patrols and police cars will monitor strategic roads.

Razon said they have no idea how bad the strike would be, but they are prepared to handle any situation. -- With Chris Fabian, Marichu Villanueva, Sheila Crisostomo, Nestor Etolle

-- (, March 17, 2000

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