Jeepney drivers, operators to protest at LTFRB offices on Jan. 24

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 14) — Jeepney drivers and operators against the government's move to modernize public utility vehicles (PUV) are set to hold demonstrations nationwide on January 24.

In a press conference Sunday, George San Mateo, National President of the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON), said the group will stage protests in front of Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) offices.

LTFRB Board Member Aileen Lizada said she welcomes PISTON's move.

"Open ho kami sa dialogue," she said on Sunday. "Matagal na rin po kaming open at palagi po namin sinasabi sana naman gawin na ni George ang tama at kausapin na kami at hindi idaan sa ganitong rallies."

[Translation: We're open to dialogue. We have long been open to dialogue and we've always been telling George to do the right thing and talk to us instead of holding rallies.]

PISTON clarified the protest on January 24 will not be a transport strike.

San Mateo is out on bail after a Quezon City court ordered his arrest for holding a transport strike in February 2017.

Read: Transport group leader George San Mateo posts bail

Roadworthy jeepneys allowed until 2020

The PUV Modernization Program, which was launched in June 2017, aims to phase out PUVs over 15 years old and replace these with vehicles with "low-carbon and low-emission technology".

Read: Jeepney modernization program kicks off next month

Lizada told CNN Philippines in June 2017 that there are around 204,000 jeepneys operating nationwide, with an estimated 75 percent of these over 15 years old.

PISTON and other transport groups are against the program, saying hundreds of thousands of jeepney drivers and operators could lose their business.

However, Transportation Undersecretary Tim Orbos told CNN Philippines on January 2 that old jeepneys will still be allowed to ply the streets, but must pass the scrutiny of the motor vehicle inspection system (MVIS).

Read: 'Roadworthy' old jeepneys allowed to run until 2020

"We have 26 machines arriving within the first quarter of this year, and that will take care of the implementation nationwide," Orbos said.

The MVIS assesses a vehicle based on points, measuring the roadworthiness based on emission, brakes, suspension, and lights among others.

Arbitrary findings

However, San Mateo said many drivers and operators were unfairly treated during the government's recent vehicle inspections.

"Dinidiinan kaagad ang silinyador, yung hindi proper na paggawa ng smoke emission testing, nagiging dahilan para abritrary bagsak kaagad," he said. "'Yung iba kung mapanuod mo sa TV, walang testing machine eh. Ang sinabi lang ng enforcer by mere plain view lang."

[Translation: They immediately hit the gas and didn't follow the proper procedure in smoke emission testing, resulting in arbitrary failure of the test. Some of the tests you see on TV were conducted without a testing machine. The enforcer just gave his assessment from plain view.]

San Mateo said authorities should instead conduct smoke emission testing and road worthiness check-ups at jeepney terminals and, better yet, inspect the units before these are registered.

But Lizada said they will continue going after violators.

"Marami hong jeepneys na walang terminal," she said. "Marami hong mga single-operator na sa daanan lang nagpaparada. Matagal na ho itong kailangang gawin. Kailangan on the road ang karapat-dapat lang."

[Translation: Many jeepneys don't have terminals. There are many single-operator jeepneys that are parked on the street. This move is long overdue. Jeepneys allowed on the road must be those that pass the standards.]

PISTON added it has set up a hotline for complaints from jeepney drivers and operators affected by the modernization program.

The public may call the group at ‎0908-1247372.

CNN Philippines Digital Producer VJ Bacungan contributed to this report.