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MANILA – The Department of Transportation (DOTr) is planning to tap public utility jeepneys (PUJs) which are not allowed to operate under general community quarantine for delivery services, Malacañang said on Tuesday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said since physical distancing cannot be observed inside PUJs, they can instead be tapped for deliveries of basic and essential goods.

“Kanina po, kasama ko rin si [Transport] Secretary [Arthur] Tugade, meron din silang plano na gawing delivery service ang ating mga jeepneys kasi nga po hindi pupuwedeng sakyan because hindi pupuwede ang social distancing (Earlier, I was with Secretary Tugade, they also have a plan to use PUJs as delivery services since they cannot carry passengers while observing social distancing),” he said in a virtual presser.

Roque said PUJ drivers are also being eyed as contact tracers since the country needs to hire around 120,000 contact tracers nationwide to augment the existing over 30,000 contact tracers.

He said the DOTr could also facilitate PUJ modernization where the seating arrangement is similar to modern buses instead of the traditional PUJ where passengers face each other.

In the same presser, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said there are government financing programs available to encourage PUJ drivers to buy modern PUJs.

Roque also assured that PUJ drivers are guaranteed cash aid under the government’s social amelioration program (SAP).

Under the SAP, low-income families affected by the health crisis will be granted emergency subsidies ranging from PHP5,000 to PHP8,000.

He said the government is also studying the possibility of introducing a third tranche of subsidy for PUJ drivers.

“Pag-aaralan kung may matitira para magkaroon sila ng additional tranche. Wala pong pangako ‘yan pero titingnan po talaga natin kung merong matitira at mapupunta po ‘yan sa mga walang hanap-buhay (The government is studying if there is enough funds left to provide an additional tranche. We cannot promise that yet but we are really checking if there are funds left to help those who have lost their livelihoods),” he said.

Around 500,000 PUJ drivers were displaced due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to transport group Piston.

To date, only trains and bus augmentation services, taxis, transport network vehicle services (TNVS), shuttle services, point-to-point buses with limited passenger capacity and bicycles are allowed to operate under GCQ.

Piston 2

Meanwhile, Roque said the case of the two Piston PUJ drivers who were not released after almost a week of being detained by authorities, will have to “follow a due process.”

The two are among the six PUJ drivers who were detained for staging a protest in Caloocan City calling for the resumption of their operations.

“Dadaan po yan sa proseso. Dadaan po ‘yan sa piskalya. At pag wala pong ebidensya, madi-dismiss po yung kaso (That will have to follow a due process. That will go through the fiscal. If there’s no evidence, the case will be dismissed),” Roque said.

Reports showed that only four out of the six PUJ drivers were released on Monday after court records showed two members -- Elmer Cordero, 72; and Wilson Ramilla, 43, have pending cases.

Cordero is facing a supposed estafa case in 2002 for failing to pay rent which he denied, while Ramilla was previously charged with car theft for failing to return a vehicle in 2010 which he claimed had been dismissed.

The drivers out on bail are Severino Ramos, 59; Ramon Paloma, 48; Ruben Baylon, 59; and Arsenio Ymas Jr., 56.

Several persons have offered to help the PUJ drivers. (PNA)