Modern jeepney: For the greater good of the majority

BABE’S EYE VIEW By Babe Romualdez

A few years ago, a company driver retired from his job to make “pasada” and drive his own second-hand jeepney. Sadly, after a couple of years, the man came back to ask for help. He informed us that his health was starting to deteriorate because of the long hours he had to spend driving and had developed a chronic lung disease because of constant exposure to air pollution. The man eventually died because he had also developed lung cancer – leaving behind a family of five children with no means to support themselves as the oldest was still in high school while the youngest was in grade four.

This is another classic story where something may be good in the beginning but will turn out to be bad in the end. All kinds of studies show that air pollution is responsible for the premature deaths of millions of people. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution is a “silent killer” that accounts for one third of deaths due to lung cancer and stroke, about 25 percent of deaths from heart disease, and close to 50 percent of child deaths due to pneumonia. An official from the World Health Organization (WHO) also affirmed that air pollution can cause chronic illnesses that are expensive to cure and lower people’s quality of life for years. (Coincidentally, we have an article about improved quality of life on “This Week on PeopleAsia” at the Allure section of the Philippine STAR today.)

A recent report published in The Lancet (considered as one of the oldest and best medical journals in the world) showed that pollution is linked to nine million deaths all over the world in 2015, with air pollution having the most impact. Pollution is responsible for 16 percent of all deaths worldwide – three times more than deaths due to AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined, and 15 times more deaths than wars and other forms of violence.

In the Philippines, a two-year study conducted by the Kaibigan ng Kaunlaran at Kalikasan (KKK) in collaboration with Clean Air Asia and Manila Observatory found that traffic jams continue to worsen air pollution in Metro Manila, putting people at risk of cardiovascular disease and health problems that include allergies, acute respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and even cancer according to the Department of Health.

Aside from drivers, those at great risk of developing lung problems are EDSA traffic enforcers, warned doctors from the Lung Center of the Philippines, saying that exposure to road air pollution that lasts for more than two hours can already damage the lungs. Even with protective masks, lung inflammation can also develop, although it will take several days instead of hours. It goes without saying that the commuters are also at great risk of developing illnesses.

There is no doubt that the majority of Filipinos support the government’s jeepney modernization program. Every other person I know wants ancient jeepneys to be replaced with modern Euro 4 or electric jeeps that can greatly reduce pollution.

The modernization program is definitely not anti-poor as claimed by transport group Piston. Jeepney drivers can earn more due to 43 percent fuel savings, less maintenance costs since the e-jeeps are new, and more passengers can be accommodated because the seating capacity will be 22 instead of 16. The government will also give up to P80,000 subsidy for every unit to help cover the down payment.

Leaders of the transport group Fejodap support the government’s modernization program, saying an additional 10 passengers can also stand up inside the new units during rush hours. Aircon units will also charge an additional P2 on top of the current minimum fare of P8. Fejodap says the cost of an e-jeep at P1.3 million to P1.6 million is comparable to traditional jeeps which could also cost the same if fitted with Euro 4-compliant engines instead of “surplus.”

This problem with old jeepneys has been going on for years, with commuters complaining about the toxic fumes, the frequent breakdowns, uncomfortable rides because they are packed inside with “sabit” passengers, and “barumbado” drivers who often figure in accidents.

As expected, people with narrow vision are against the modernization program saying it should be shelved. These people are against it for their own selfish reasons, and not for the good of the majority. Once again, President Duterte is displaying his strong political will by giving the drivers an ultimatum to comply with modernization – not buying the poverty card that left-leaning groups are trying to play. As the president said, the current jeepney type is poisoning the people especially the commuting public, with the drivers being taken for a ride by Piston and other interest groups.

The former company driver who died – leaving behind his children who were forced to drop school and now have to fend for themselves because their mother is also too sickly to work – is just one more example of the consequences that could happen when people take a narrow view of things and do not think of the long term.

As Transportation Secretary Art Tugade stated, “Past administrations wanted to modernize transportation, but every time people wave flags saying that the program is anti-poor, they take a step back. This has to stop.”

Jeepney modernization, Art stressed, should be implemented now. “We will not stop anyone from expressing their right. But, you need to make sure that you do not step on other people’s rights. You have to consider the common good. Remember, we are not fighting the few; we are protecting the many.”

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