Quezon City police arrest 5 jeepney drivers on their way to protest Duterte’s SONA

Members of various groups protesting against President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address <i>Photo: Piston / FB</i>
Members of various groups protesting against President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address Photo: Piston / FB

At least six jeepney drivers who were on their way to attend a protest rally against President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) were arrested by the police in Quezon City Circle today.

Transport group Piston, whose members had already been arrested last month for protesting the jeepney ban, said in a series of tweets this morning that the arrested jeepney drivers were brought to the Quezon City police headquarters in Camp Karingal.

Piston alleged that the arresting officers did not say what the drivers were arrested for, and the police likewise did not furnish a warrant for their arrests.

Read:  6 jeepney drivers charged in Caloocan City for asking gov’t to allow them to work

Piston’s lawyer, VJ Topacio told Rappler that the cops were arrested along East Avenue. Topacio said it’s unclear what charges will be filed against the drivers, and said they could not be accused of violating the government rule on “mass gathering” because such events should consist of at least 10 people.

National Capital Region Police Office Chief Major General Debold Sinas, however, told reporters that the drivers had violated the rule against the use of traditional jeepneys because using them requires government approval.

Sinas — who got off scot-free despite being widely criticized over his alleged violation of quarantine rules when he held a birthday bash in May  — said that they plan on filing charges against the drivers.

“We will not let them off without a case so that they will feel that we mean business,” he told reporters in Filipino.

Other members of Piston, meanwhile, will push through with rallying against the phaseout of traditional jeepneys that would render throngs of already struggling drivers jobless. They’ll be joining different groups in the collective anti-SONA rally called SONAgkaisa “United against SONA” at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City.

The government’s jeepney modernization program aims to replace the old, smoke-belching vehicles with emission-compliant but expensive modern jeepneys, vehicles that the drivers could barely afford. To make things worse for the drivers, traditional jeepneys were banned earlier this year because the government insists that the coronavirus could spread quickly among its passengers. The ban left many drivers on the brink of extreme poverty.

Read: Jeepneys may return if transport options insufficient, says Roque

Last month, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque announced that “roadworthy” traditional jeepneys would be allowed to ply the streets. The government eventually decided that jeepneys — which Roque believes fall on the bottom of a public transport “hierarchy” — were needed to address the lack of public transport options for millions of Metro Manila’s commuters.

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