Transport Union Leader, Five Others Arrested on 3rd Day of Strike
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ A transport union leader and five others were arrested Wednesday on the third day of a drivers’ strike that has disrupted one of the country’s main forms of land transportation, police said.
The drivers of ″jeepneys,″ privately owned passenger vehicles operated through government franchises, are demanding lower prices for spare parts and the suspension of a state-ordered reduction in fares.
President Corazon Aquino on Tuesday rejected their demands and instructed police to ″make sure that jeepney drivers who want to ply their usual routes are not prevented from doing so, and to protect the passengers.″
Police said an undetermined number of drivers stayed off the job in the capital Wednesday, although more came to work than on Monday, when the strike stranded thousands of commuters in Manila.
On Monday, service on about 80 percent of the 445 passenger jeep routes in the capital was disrupted by the strike.
On Wednesday, reporters said there were fewer jeeps than normal operating in Manila’s central districts of Santa Mesa and Quiapo, but no serious delays for commuters.
Reporters in Cebu, the country’s second major metropolitan area about 350 miles southeast of Manila, said jeep drivers were on strike on several routes in the northern part of the city.
Schools in Manila were closed Wednesday because of the strike.
Police said Deogracias Espiritu, secretary-general of a drivers’ association known as PISTON, was arrested before dawn Wednesday. He was charged with inciting sedition by leading strikers who made inflammatory remarks in public, such as calls to ″fight the government to the last.″
In Manila’s Cubao district, strikers urged jeep drivers to join the walkout. Police reported some jeeps that did not join were stoned.
Five striking workers were arrested on charges of harassing fellow drivers, police added.
Strikers said 14 other strikers were arrested in Manila’s northern suburbs of Caloocan City and Navotas. Police in the two suburbs said they had not received any reports of the arrests.
Union members told reporters Wednesday that their leaders would meet later at an undisclosed location to decide whether to continue the strike.
Strikes are not illegal in the Philippines, but police say those arrested were harassing non-striking drivers and commuters.
A presidential decree last week forced the minimum fare to drop to about 3 cents for a 2 1/2 -mile ride, down from the previous official rate of about 4 cents. The drivers had in fact been charging about 5 cents.
PISTON is affiliated with the May First Movement, a leftist labor confederation the military claims is infiltrated by communists. The group denies the allegation.