Back in January 2018, I wrote an article about President Duterte’s Transport Modernization Program (TMP) as endorsed by the DOTr. I warned that this needed a lot of planning, and fast-tracking it, imposing deadlines, and premature implementation would not work.
Mr. President and DOTr Sec. Tugade, I beg your indulgence. We need an in-depth study before we start moving. We are not yet ready. DOTr Asec Goddess Libiran announced a deadline of June 2020 for jeepney operators to ‘modernize’. It is now July. Even if operators meet the deadline, is DOTr ready for the massive processing and inspection? What entails ‘modernization’ or the mandatory shift to expensive European engines?
Mr. President, let me show you how flawed the entire concept of ‘modernization’ is. The idea is to replace the jeepney engines with the environment-compliant Euro-4. One Euro 4 jeepney will cost a staggering P1.6 million. Fitting Euro 4s into 300,000 jeepneys nationwide, at a staggering cost of P447 billion, is a massive undertaking which may take five years. (Source – UPLB scientists interviewed).
Clearly, modernization will triple or quadruple jeepney fares, which is unacceptable to marginal commuters. Cost of spare parts alone will sky-rocket. Fish and vegetables can easily soar 3- to 4-fold, if transported by Euro 4 engines. The entire national economy is affected.
This is a game-changer beyond the reach of jeepney operators and drivers, and will strain government and private sector financing. After five years to convert, the Euro 4 will be obsolete. Europe is now working on the Euro-6, which may cost double of the Euro-4. We cannot keep up with and are not ready for this rapid expensive modernization meant for developed nations. Once we adopt the Euro-4, we are stuck. We become the dumping ground for old technologies. We cannot put our eggs in one basket. We need a Third World model based on our economies of scale.
Shifting to Euro-4 means we are totally dependent on foreign firms, and spare parts can come late, or may become non-existent if it is phased out. We also need to train ordinary jeepney drivers the high-tech digital aspects of the Euro-4. Rappler articles hint that they are pushing hard for modernization. Is this for favored multinationals? Rappler receives a lot of foreign funding, which may blur its perspective and may be a conflict of interest that jeopardizes freedom of the press, for which it says it fights for.
If we hand over the transport sector to multinationals in partnership with a few oligarch ‘jeepney czars’, it will be at the expense of tens of thousands of drivers and operators. 300,000 jeepneys nationwide translates to about 1.5 million family members, not including downstream industries. Profit will be centralized to a few and the marginals marginalized further. This environment modernization may become a social disaster. TOWARDS A PHILIPINE MODEL. Mr. President, the picture is not that dim. There are avenues for long-term solutions. The approach is to ‘localize’ modernization, to let Filipinos partner with foreigners to produce the engines themselves locally, rather than import them.
We can ask foreign environmentally-compliant engine manufacturers like Mitsubishi and Hyundai to setup engine factories here, train workers, and locally produce engines on a joint-venture partnership. We can forge this deal through a bilateral agreement with South Korea and Japan, which, by the way, may have cheaper engines than the Europeans. Let’s make it an Asian thing.
Jeepney cooperatives and their families can participate in this effort by being prioritized as factory workers. We can give more capital to jeepney body producers, like Sarao, and Francisco Motors to streamline the new jeepney of the future using appropriate technology, the ability to improvise from locally available cheap materials. Let’s make it a Filipino endeavor. Filipinos are ingenious in appropriate technologies.
Mr. President, we understand the urgency to modernize, but we have to plan and prepare well for this, instead of fast-tracking it with little planning, and imposing sudden unreasonable deadlines. We have to forge foreign partners first. Perhaps a Transport Modernization Task Force can be formed, if it has not yet been done, which can include DFA, DTI, and DOLE. We cannot do it overnight. If we hurry, we may easily stumble.