OF TREES AND FOREST
Jeepneys are not just utilitarian modes of transportation for Filipinos. It is that, yes. They offer an affordable mode of transportation for students, workers and the general population that also supports the livelihood of thousands of drivers and independent operators. Back in the day, the jeepney was my go-to ride when going to school or when my friends and I would go to downtown Manila to watch movies and eat. Nag-eenjoy ako sumabit sa jeep. The wind against your face (hindi pa masyado polluted noon) and the sense of danger I experienced at that young age.
This is the reason why the issue of the jeepney modernization program is not just an economic or even a political issue. For many—the drivers, operators, the riding public—it is deeply cultural and personal.
Some years back, the government launched the modernization program which has a noble aim: to modernize our transportation system by making them more efficient, safer and environmentally sustainable. Unfortunately, this involved phasing out old and dilapidated public utility vehicles, including the jeepneys. But the objective was very good. Modern transport systems are the backbone of successful economies, they are the lifelines of cities and regions, and provide important economic and social factors. Just look at Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. Modernizing the Philippine transport system means moving more people faster. It also means developing sustainable solutions that are clean, resource efficient, safe and affordable.
Fast forward to today when transport groups held a nationwide strike to protest the jeepney phaseout and decry the implementation of the modernization program. Thanks to President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., that strike was averted when he promised to review the program and its implementation.
I was impressed by the way President Bongbong handled this crisis. Since the campaign in 2022, he has consistently placed transportation and infrastructure as critical elements of his economic blueprint. He said: “I assure the Filipino people that the government will strive to modernize and improve the country's transportation system. This will be one of the cornerstones of our progress as we move full speed ahead into a brighter tomorrow.
But while he acknowledged the lofty goals of the transport modernization program he also saw the need to make sure that our people are not left behind by the move to phaseout older vehicles. “Ngunit sa pag-aaral ko,” the President explained, “parang hindi maganda ang naging implementation nung modernization.” He added: “May luma naman na maganda pa rin. May luma naman na puwede pang gamitin.” Such wise words from the President!
The President is essentially saying, “this is something we need to do, but we need to do it right.” With the nationwide strike called off, the government needs to sit down and recalibrate its efforts to modernize our transportation. And there is one principle they need to understand.
Change is difficult. People are generally averse to change especially if they are abrupt and if it will completely threaten their livelihood. For this reason, societies and organizations need to plan changes. In business, we have what we call change management. It refers to the actions a business needs to take in order to effect change or adjust a significant component of its organization—technology, company culture, internal processes, corporate hierarchy, and the like. Government needs to understand that they have to guide all stakeholders of the transport sector in the process of modernization. They need to involve everyone who will be affected by this enormous change from the earliest stages of planning down to its execution.
An important part of change management is preparing all sectors that will be affected for the change that is coming. This in turn requires an effective communication strategy for the modernization plan and how it will be implemented. As a first step, perhaps government should stop using the term phaseout. It is so cold and cruel of a term to be using in an emotionally charged discussion.
In business, it is unthinkable for a manager to just show up at a meeting one day and tell everyone that changes will be made. It does not work that way in business and most certainly, in government which deals with public interest. I hope that with the guidance of the President we can finally get this right.