As world leaders and big businesses convene in Egypt for the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) this November, people from the Global South continue to air their longtime demand to end the crisis of climate imperialism that has victimized the world’s most vulnerable communities. These communities are the world’s poorest. They suffer the consequences of environmental destruction brought by the exploitative system of monopoly capitalism that ensures the world’s richest get to extract super-profits from exploiting the rest of the population and our natural resources.
Workers all over the world are demanding a pro-people, worker-led just transition at COP27. And a huge part of them are transport workers who are immensely afflicted during supply chain disruptions at the height of the pandemic, and who bear the brunt of the ongoing climate crisis which devastates communities, flooding or damaging roads, railway lines, seaports, and major transport hubs.
Transport worldwide is responsible for 15% of all greenhouse gases. However, governments have been failing to properly invest in social protection programs and services needed for vulnerable sectors like transport workers to withstand the effects of the climate crisis and to transition fairly into a genuinely sustainable industry. Meanwhile, multinational big businesses and wealthy developed nations continue to force the burden of rapid environmental destruction onto poorer developing countries.
THE PUV MODERNIZATION PROGRAM: A FALSE SOLUTION TO THE CLIMATE CRISIS
In the Philippines, where transport is still heavily dependent on imported oil, policies by the national government on urban mass transit have been dictated by foreign investments through structural adjustment deals since the 1970s. This resulted in widespread privatization and deregulation of public mass transport. International financial institutions aggressively push for “free market” and business-friendly false solutions to the climate crisis such as the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) in relation to Asian Development Bank’s so-called Sustainable Transport Initiative.
Through the PUVMP, the Philippine government attempts to phase-out jeepneys and other small-capacity public utility vehicles for more “modern”, “cleaner”, and blatantly more expensive imported vehicles or modern jeepneys with Euro 4 engines that cost up to Php 2.5 million (USD 43,120) per unit (compared to traditional jeepneys that only cost Php 200,000 – 400,000 or USD 3,450 – 6,900). The modern jeepneys are also expected to be airconditioned, equipped with imported safety features, and operated in a consolidated or cooperative manner under what is called as “fleet management.” According to the government, it aims to provide Filipinos safer, comfortable, and reliable transportation while also reducing the health risks associated with “smoke-belching” old jeepneys that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and the climate crisis.
In order to properly address the contribution of urban mass transport to the climate crisis and the safety and environmental challenges of jeepneys, the causes and effects of such must be put into proper perspective. And given the conflicting realities that surround the program and the import-dependent nature of the aforementioned “modernization,” its stakeholders view this “solution” to road safety and to the climate crisis as a problem.
First, being an import-dependent nation, the Philippines suffers from high exchange rate factors and dollar outflows that consequently weaken the Philippine peso, while producing very little local employment. “Modernizing” an industry without developing local manufacturing and improving working conditions will only result in an even worse quality of life.
Second, most jeepney operators/owners only have Php 200,000 – 400,000 (USD 3,450 – 6,900) in capital for each vehicle. Almost 80% of jeepneys are single-unit operations that are usually driven by the operator as well. And since almost all operators cannot afford the Php2.5 million (USD 43,120) price tag of an imported modern jeepney unit, they simply cannot afford to purchase the 15 units which is the minimum number of modern jeepney units required for them to operate in their routes even with loans from banks and financial institutions. Hence, transport workers deem that the PUVMP and its fleet management system will displace more drivers or worsen their working conditions.
Public transport accounts for 80% of ridership and trips in Philippine urban areas, with 40% of these being provided by jeepneys. The high costs needed to modernize means that commuters, who are mostly minimum wage earners and informal workers will also have to bear the higher fares that come with imported modern jeepneys.
While drivers and small operators find the price of modern jeepneys to be immensely unaffordable, replacing about 300,000 traditional jeepneys in the country would mean big business for foreign manufacturers and big local corporations. Phasing out traditional jeepneys and other small-capacity public transport vehicles also means a chance for big businesses and corporations to take over the routes left by individual operators who failed to modernize or transport cooperatives bankrupted by huge loans used to purchase modern jeepney units.
And finally, thousands of tons of aluminum metal components, including engines, will end up as scrap if imported modern jeepneys replace existing traditional jeepneys. The PUVMP will not be as effective as it claims to be at combating the climate crisis, rather, it will just increase waste production.
Essentially, the PUV phase-out and modernization program merely exposes the Philippine economy’s fundamental weakness in developing its own industry, creating decent work, protecting the jobs and livelihood of its people, and addressing the climate crisis.
The PUVMP is a fake modernization program that claims to protect the environment from destruction but in actuality, it’s displacing thousands of transport workers all over the country, putting them out of work or making them suffer worse working conditions. Multi-national big corporations and local big businesses collaborating with corrupt bureaucrats and government officials gain the most from this program.
Any transport modernization plan should be implemented in conjunction with an economic strategy that will support the growth of truly domestic industries and empower local industrial and transport workers, especially in a developing country like the Philippines. Understanding that public transport is a public utility and not a business is crucial in this regard.
A PRO-PEOPLE, WORKER-LED JUST TRANSITION IS KEY TO A GENUINE SUSTAINABLE PUBLIC MASS TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM
Just transition and the development of sustainable mass transport are directly linked to national economic development. For a developing country like the Philippines, that should translate into a national industrialization and agricultural development policy and program since mass transport is the vital link between rural and agricultural production and industrial activities.
National industrialization should be a major strategy for the Philippines to shift away from its current market-driven industrial roadmap that is dependent on foreign investors causing local decent jobs to remain scarce while offering low wages. Economic development is key to increasing efficient transport systems and to ensuring that local jobs are created. This can be guaranteed by putting the vital industrial sectors under Filipino control and public services and utilities such as water, power, public transport, and telecommunications nationalized.
Here are the people’s urgent demands to achieve a pro-people, worker-led just transition in the Philippines:
- Empower the communities and involve the people in the decision-making process
Before carrying out any transport modernization project, genuine consultations with affected sectors should be done, including but not limited to workers, drivers, small transport operators, urban poor communities, and consumer groups to ensure a transition program that doesn’t leave any vulnerable sector behind.
- Promote genuine cooperativization and uphold the people’s right to association
Genuine cooperativization is a step towards more government responsibility over public mass transport. It paves the way for the eventual nationalization of mass transit by enabling the government to pursue a program of collaboration with drivers and small operator cooperatives for collective bargaining, managing, and running the public transport industry. This can only be achieved if the government will respect and uphold the people’s right to association and the workers’ right to unionize.
- Rehabilitate PUVs, not phaseout
Instead of focusing solely on placing modern jeepneys on the road, the government should consider other solutions to reduce emissions and road pollution. These include the potential for rehabilitating old jeepneys rather than scrapping them for imported ones, providing greater subsidies for purchasing compliant vehicles, and supporting genuine cooperativization of existing drivers and operators instead of placing public transport routes and ownership in the hands of big corporations.
- Nationalize public services and utilities
The government should also junk and reverse its privatization policies in mass transport and have a fare-setting policy that is not market-based but founded on the principle that public transportation is a service that must be reliable, safe, and affordable to commuters. This is based on the understanding and recognition that public transport is a public utility and shouldn’t be left to market forces focused solely on making super-profits.
- Implement a national mass transport plan anchored on national industrialization and genuine agrarian reform
A genuine transport modernization program should be crafted within a comprehensive national mass transport plan that is in accordance with genuine sustainable development, rural development, national industrialization, and economic development plans.
This should include the development of both high-capacity and small-capacity transport that considers the economic activities and efficient mobility of both formal and informal workers, students, consumers, and other key sectors of the urban population while promoting active transport and providing the necessary infrastructure for road sharing, green spaces, and other environment-friendly modes of transportation. This should also include a complimentary plan on human settlements prioritizing on-site and in-city resettlement public housing that are decent and affordable for those that will be affected by infrastructure and urban renewal development projects.
Additionally, implementing a transport plan in Metro Manila should be in accordance with the region’s role in national industrialization. To decongest Metro Manila, its mobility should be focused on economic activities that encourage rural growth. This will eventually lead to less fuel usage and a cleaner urban environment.
There should also be greater public investment in harnessing renewable energy sources and ensuring that these become affordable. Ultimately, a truly local, pro-Filipino, PUV manufacturing industry is needed, as opposed to the country’s reliance on imported engines, chassis, and other technologies while ensuring that the jobs they create are decent and regular, and its workers are paid livable wages.
A pro-people, worker-led just transition is beyond simply trying to lower carbon emissions from urban transport systems. It incorporates the needs of transport workers and other vulnerable and marginalized sectors as a priority in responding to the climate crisis, achieving climate justice, and transitioning into a genuinely sustainable public mass transport and society.
NO TO FAKE MODERNIZATION!
NO CLIMATE JUSTICE WITHOUT SOCIAL JUSTICE!
END CLIMATE IMPERIALISM!