A Minority congressman was ticked off Tuesday from what he considered as an improper–if not insensitive–remark from Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) Chairman Martin Delgra regarding the plight of public utility jeep (PUJ) drivers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

delgra - Delgra’s remarks on PUJ drivers irk solon
Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) chair Martin Delgra III (PCOO / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

APEC Party-List Rep. Sergio Dagooc felt that Delgra insinuated during the budget briefing of the Department of Transportation (DoTr) before the House Appropriations Committtee that not all PUJ drivers had been affected by the pandemic.

The LTFRB is an attached agency of the DoTr, which is headed by Secretary Arthur Tugade. Both Delgra and Tugade were physically present in the budget briefing.

During the hearing, Dagooc asked the transportation officials when the PUJ drivers who used to ply the Malanday (Valenzuela)- Recto (Manila) route would be allowed back on the road.

Delgra answered by saying that “two or three” bus lines have already resumed operations on that particular route, which also traverses parts of southern Caloocan City.

“Our policy there is to look for other routes by which that same group of operators or drivers that may have been affected as a result of this route rationalization would still be able to run so that we’ll be able to provide not just income to the operators or drivers but to serve other routes. Rest assured we are addressing that issue,” Delgra said.

“If we are going to bring back or include other modes of transport, hindi lang magkakagulo kung hindi bababa yung financial viability nung mga tumatakbo na ngayon (not only would it be chaotic, the financial viability will also decrease for those already plying the routes),” the LTFRB explained.

Dagooc called Delgra’s attention on his choice of words.

“Not ‘may be affected,’ they are really affected right from the start. Araw-araw po kumakain mga yan, may mga pamilya po iyan (They have to eat every day and they have families),” the solon said of PUJ drivers.

“Alam po natin lahat na mula noon pinahinto sila noong ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), wala na silang kabuhayan. Mali po na sasabihin lang natin na maybe they are affected kasi alam naman po natin na ang ikinabubuhay po ng mga drivers ay iyung pamamasada lang (We all know that since public transport was halted during the ECQ, they lost their livelihood. It’s wrong to say that maybe they are affected because we know that drivers’ livelihood is dependent on plying their routes),” the neophyte lawmaker said.

Delgra bared earlier in the budget deliberation that at least 18,000 traditional jeeps have been allowed to return to roads since the ECQ. However, the figure is less than half of the total traditional jeeps in Metro Manila, which according to the same official, total 41,986 units.

The extended transport stoppage have reduced many PUJ drivers–once dubbed the “kings of the road”–into mere alms seekers due to sheer lack of income.

The question as to when the rest of the sidelined PUJ drivers would be allowed to ply their routes was repeatedly asked by House members during the six-hour budget briefing. No specific timeline was provided by Delgra, who nonetheless said that their assessment was ongoing.

“When we talk about route-based public transport, we need to maximize efficiency of these modes of transport by understanding their needs. Maraming elemento po iyan (There are many elements to it),” he told the Appropriations panel chaired by ACT-CIS Party-List Rep. Eric Go Yap.

Another Minority member, Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Ferdinand Gaite, slammed Delgra’s “open-ended” answers.

“Yun po kasi yung importanteng masagot sana. Sa tagal nang inabot nitong tigil-pasada, nag-aabang din yung mga jeepney drivers and they would like to see a time frame. Open-ended yung binabanggit, paunti-unti (That’s the important question that needs to be answered. With this prolonged transport halt, jeepney drivers have been waiting and they would like to see a time frame. The answers have been open-ended and incremental),” Gaite said.

“The faster that it can be done, the better,” he stressed.

The DoTr has a proposed budget of P143.1 billion under the 2021 National Expenditure Program.

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