[UPDATE] BACOLOD CITY – Public transportation resumed this evening as Day 1 of the Church- and business-backed transport strike in Negros Occidental ended around 5 pm. today with organizers calling it a “success.”
The United Negros Drivers and Operators Center claimed in a statement sent to media outlets that public transport was paralyzed by at least 90 percent in the city and up to 95 percent in the entire province even as the Federation of Bacolod City Drivers Associations (FEBACDA) stayed away from the protest action.
UNDOC secretary general Jessie Ortega, however, said in an interview over dyEZ Aksyon Radyo that the paralysis in the city was only 80 percent and 85 percent in the entire province.
Police estimated the paralysis in Bacolod City at around 60 percent.
Despite the varying estimates, however, UNDOC said that the today’s strike – joined by businessmen, truckers and churches – “(showed) a high level of unity of the people of Negros.”
Amid fears by other transport organizations that the strike will turn violent, city police chief, Senior Supt. Ricardo Dela Paz called Day 1 “generally peaceful,” marred only by the arrest of a driver at the Shopping Commercial Complex where he was caught placing a steel spike on a tire of a RAG Lines jeepney.
But this could not be related to the strike, Dela Paz said as he pointed out that the suspect, Antonio Antivo, was a dismissed driver of the Uytiepo Lines that has been renamed RAG Lines.
Uytiepo Lines declared bankruptcy several months ago, leaving scores of drivers jobless.
“This could possibly be personal and UNDOC might have nothing to do with it,” Dela Paz said in an interview over local radio station dyEZ Aksyon Radyo-Bacolod.
Dela Paz, however, said the non-participation of FEBACDA and a transport organization whose leaders splintered from UNDOC several years ago has affected the strike here.
Most of the transport organizations of out-of-town routes is affiliated with UNDOC while drivers organizations in the city are affiliated with FEBACDA which, in turn, is affiliated with the 1-Utak partylist.
“We will help the government implement programs that are good for the drivers like giving scholarships and putting up a gasoline station where drivers can avail of discounts,” FEBACDA president Elizabeth Katalbas had earlier said.
While FEBACDA has officially declared non-participation, UNDOC claimed that many members of the federation joined them in the strike centers.
UNDOC secretary general Jessie Ortega hopes for a higher rate of paralysis tomorrow to demonstrate their disgust at government’s continuing inability to address rising fuel prices.
City Councilor Dindo Ramos hopes that national government officials will listen to the demands of the drivers especially on the adjustment
of local fuel prices as he pointed out that a P5 difference in Bacolod prices is too stiff for consumers to bear.
Ramos also hopes that the Oil Deregulation Law will be scrapped as this has apparently led to the seemingly endless increases in fuel prices.
The the demands of the Negros strikers are the scrapping of the Oil Deregulation Law, the lifting of the Value Added Tax on petroleum products.
Businessmen who have supported the strike are also asking government to intervene in adjusting fuel prices in the province that are priced by several pesos higher compared to other places.
Bishop Vicente Navarra of the Bacolod Diocese had earlier issued a statement calling for public support to the strike as he condemned oil companies for taking advantage of the fuel crisis despite the billions of pesos that they are earning.
The Iglesia Filipina Independiente, acting Bacolod Mayor Jude Thaddeus Sayson and some city councilors have also expressed their support for the action.
Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon, on the other hand, is not supportive of the strike and has called the shutting down of some businesses as “unproductive.”