(Disclaimer: This briefer on climate change, PUVMP, and just transition was presented by PISTON to the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion of human rights in the context of climate change, Ian Fry, during his visit to the Philippines on November 7, 2023)
In 2017, the Philippine government ratified the 2015 Paris Agreement which introduced the decarbonization policy and compels governments to tackle the climate crisis through their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). In the same year, the government introduced the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) through a Department Order by the Department of Transportation (DOTr).
The PUVMP was introduced as a government measure to “reduce” carbon emissions and to achieve the country’s climate goals. It aims to phase out old, traditional jeepneys and other public utility vehicles (PUV) and replace them with more “environment-friendly” vehicles. The transport sector in the Philippines has the second highest greenhouse gas emission, with almost all the primary energy supply sourced from petroleum. However, there are significantly more private vehicles in the country with jeepneys only constituting around two percent of total registered vehicles.
In 2021, the Philippines submitted its first NDC, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent from 2020 to 2030. Among the mitigation programs on transport introduced to meet the NDC targets are the PUVMP and the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).
The PUVMP seeks to replace the current public transportation system in the Philippines with a more comfortable and environmentally sustainable system and technologies, particularly mini buses with Euro-4 compliant engines, hybrid, or electric mini buses; and in the case of Cebu in southern Philippines, the introduction of a new BRT system.
The problem is not so much with the technology itself but with the political and economic factors surrounding its introduction and implementation. The issue of livelihood displacement has been a constant issue throughout the implementation of the PUVMP. This will impact drivers and operators in three major ways: expensive costs, corporate capture, and rights violation.
The cost of “modernizing” or replacing the current jeepneys have reached around Php 2.8 million (USD 50,000) per vehicle as of 2023 and will have to be shouldered by jeepney drivers and operators. The extremely high price tag is due to the use of imported vehicles and vehicle parts sourced from huge corporations abroad (e.g. Foton, Isuzu, Hyundai, Hino, COMET etc.). In contrast, a locally produced traditional jeepney ranges from only Php 200,000 to Php 400,000 (USD 3,600 to USD 7,100) per vehicle.
Jeepney operators in the Philippines make an average daily gross income of Php 2,500 to Php 3,000 (USD 45 to USD 53.50) for each vehicle they own. However, this income is reduced due to various expenses such as fuel, maintenance, and payments for the jeepney driver (typically at Php 500 or USD 9 per day). The cost of a modern jeepney is significantly higher than that of a traditional jeepney, making it financially unfeasible for most jeepney drivers and operators.
Additionally, the government’s subsidy and loan programs have restrictions that only benefit those who have already complied with the program. Moreover, the payment terms of these loan programs are unfavorable to small operators and drivers.
Meanwhile, the World Bank-funded Cebu BRT project compels the formation of cooperatives where significant capital is required from PUV drivers and operators to transition into modern bus units. These cooperatives are required to pay no less than Php 70,000 (USD 1,250) for registration with an additional requirement of Php 300,000 (USD 5,350) capitalization to participate in the BRT project.
Modernizing jeepneys and other PUVs comes at a cost that will ultimately be shouldered by commuters. Operators will need to generate higher daily income to make up for the high acquisition costs of modern vehicles.
For instance, a “modern” mini bus valued at Php 2.5 million (USD 44,600) would require a daily income of Php 6,899 (USD 123) to offset its cost. This may lead to an increase in minimum fares, which could reach as high as Php 34 (USD 0.60) for a minibus carrying 200 passengers a day (for context, the current minimum fare for a traditional jeepney is only Php 13 or USD 0.23). As a result, higher transport fares may have a ripple effect in the supply chain, leading to increased transportation costs for food and other goods. This could ultimately result in a rise in the cost of living for millions of Filipino workers and households already enduring a very meager daily minimum wage of Php 368 to Php 610 (USD 6.50 to USD 11.00).
The question of what happens to drivers and operators who fail to produce the extreme amounts needed to modernize is a central issue. According to the PUVMP, for PUV operators to qualify with the loan programs and subsidy, they must first surrender their individual franchises and consolidate them into a single franchise under a registered cooperative or corporation as “fleet manager” operating a particular route.
Moreover, PUV routes will be reclassified, modified, or scrapped based on road hierarchy and ridership demand, potentially displacing small operators. The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) will grant franchises based on the principle of “least possible number of operators” that may result in the monopoly of a few big fleet managers or corporations who have the necessary capitalization to control PUV routes, thus concentrating market control in the hands of a few corporate entities. Filipino tycoons like Manny Pangilinan and Manny Villar have already formed transport corporations under the PUVMP.
The franchise consolidation scheme would effectively strip small-time operators of their democratic control over their vehicles and livelihoods. As around 80 percent of all jeepney operators in the country only own one jeepney, the majority of jeepney operators are at risk of being displaced.
The possible corporate capture and franchise consolidation scheme of the PUVMP also put into question its effects on the drivers’ and operators’ right to freedom of association and right to decent work, leading to their further marginalization.
In the 32 routes affected by the Cebu BRT project, 3,000 to 5,000 jeepney drivers and operators are in danger of losing their livelihood. It has also led to many jeepney drivers and operators not being absorbed in the project, particularly senior citizen workers aged 65 and above.
Meanwhile, protests and strikes against the PUVMP were met with various attacks and rights violations from state forces. Since 2020, 11 transport workers have been unjustly arrested and detained after joining protests and strikes. The LTFRB also often threatens to revoke the franchises of jeepney operators who join strikes. The state also frequently red-tags transport workers or maliciously accuses them of being linked to armed rebels, consequently jeopardizing their safety and security. Ramon Rescovilla, the current National Vice President of PISTON, still remains in jail under false charges. He was a key figure in the transport strikes held in the Bicol region against the PUVMP and prior to his arrest, he was constantly red-tagged for his activism.
A pro-people just transition in public transport
The Philippine government’s climate change mitigation and decarbonization measures in public transport to achieve its NDC target have shown that it has obviously failed to consider public transport workers in the energy transition. The two most recent administrations have failed to adequately respond to concerns about how jeepney drivers and operators can afford the expensive costs and can be ensured of decent work.
The government only mentions “just transition” within the PUVMP in the context of allowing a 27-month transition period for PUV operators to purchase imported “modern” mini buses without any concrete and comprehensive program that will ensure that no transport worker will be left behind.
In the Philippine political and economic landscape, the government’s policies and programs are heavily influenced by neoliberal frameworks and institutions. These frameworks prioritize the generation of profits for large corporations over the improvement of public services and the creation of decent work opportunities for all. Filipino workers and consumers, who are already enduring one of the highest fuel and energy rates in Asia-Pacific, must not be the ones to shoulder the burden of energy transition.
Given these realities, PISTON recommends a pro-people just transition in public transport that ensures the following:
- Genuine participation. Social dialogues and genuine consultations with transport workers, labor groups, and all vulnerable sectors must be ensured.
- People-centered mitigation. Transport modernization plans and climate change mitigation measures should be people-centered and human rights-based. It should be designed based on what transport workers and the communities can afford. To ensure this, a pro-people just transition program must be included in the NDC of the Philippines as well as in legislation.
- Decent work for all. Energy transition, the decarbonization of industries, and any government project should create decent jobs, include social protection, increase regular work opportunities, and provide livable wages and bargaining rights for all workers.
- Democratic control of public transport. Existing transport workers’ associations, cooperatives, and unions must be recognized and empowered. Revoking their individual franchises to be consolidated into a single franchise for corporate capture must be rejected. There should be a program of democratic partnership between the government and transport workers’ unions, associations, and cooperatives to manage and operate public transport by ensuring their bargaining rights with the government.
- National industrialization. Local industries should be developed to produce environment-friendly and affordable transportation modes that meet the conditions and needs of transport workers, commuters, and local communities. Public funding and climate change funding should be allocated in developing local industries to produce safe, affordable, efficient, and genuinely sustainable public transport.
We also urge for a new UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution recognizing just transition as a human right. Just transition should not be considered merely as an abstract public policy concept but rather as a fundamental human right. In July 2022, the UNGA affirmed the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment as a human right. This resolution underscored the inextricable link between climate change and human rights, emphasizing the inherent obligation of states to “respect, protect and promote human rights, including in all actions undertaken to address environmental challenges.”
Ensuring the right to a just transition within a global political commitment could serve as a powerful catalyst for its effective implementation in the Philippines. Employing a human rights-based approach to addressing climate change is vital for guaranteeing a just transition for both workers and communities. To adequately allocate resources for the shift towards low-carbon, climate-resilient societies, it is essential to acknowledge just transition as a fundamental human right.
Any government initiatives that are anti–worker and anti–people must be opposed and rejected. To address the climate crisis, it is critical to address the existing inequalities that are only being exacerbated by policies like the PUVMP, which only attempts to address an emissions problem but leaves behind the workers and communities—the most vulnerable and the most at risk.
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Dimalanta, Rafael, Jan Marvi Atienza, Edrich Samonte. 2023. Putting Transport Workers and Commuters First: The Route to Just Transition in Public Transport Modernization. Policy Brief, Quezon City: UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies. https://cids.up.edu.ph/policy-brief/putting-transport-workers-commuters-first-route-transition-public-transport-modernization/.
IBON Foundation. 2018. Mass Transport Systems in Metro Manila and the Quest for Sustainability. Policy Study, Quezon City: Ibon Foundation, Inc.
ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation). 2022. A Just Transition for Urban Transport Workers. Report, London: ITF. https://www.itfglobal.org/en/resources/just-transition-urban-transport-workers-0.
Subasinghe, Ruwan, Jeff Vogt. 2023. “A just transition guaranteed by international law is within reach – here’s how.” Equal Times. May 25. https://www.equaltimes.org/a-just-transition-guaranteed-by?lang=en.