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Philippines: Strike Over Gas Hike Paralyzes Southern City

by Edwin O. Fernandez and Charlie C. SeasePhilippine Daily Inquirer (Internet Edition)
March 23rd, 2000

COTABATO CITY -- Jeepney drivers and operators, slumdwellers and other sectoral representatives yesterday took to the streets to demand an oil price rollback and the resignation or ouster of President Estrada.

The transport strike paralyzed economic activities in this city of Mindanao, Southern Philippines for the first time in its history.

Public and private schools were forced to suspend classes, while banks closed by noon.

The Cotabato City Drivers and Operators Association and Akbayan, an umbrella of non-government and advocacy groups, led some 1,000 protesters in demanding an oil price rollback, scrapping of the proposed road user's tax and the President's removal from office.

''President Estrada should step down if he cannot fulfill his promise of liberating us from poverty,'' said Nenita Junsay Herrera, a village councilor and leader of an urban poor organization called Samahan ng mga Kristiyano at Muslim Para sa Tunay na Kalayaan at Demokrasya Foundation.

''Almost every month, there is an oil price increase. This only shows how the government is killing us slowly. We should be aware of the truth. The increase in oil prices is unjust and inhuman, she said in Filipino.

The protesters urged commuters to take leaves of absence and join their cause.

''We did not demand a fare hike because we know how hard it is for commuters, but bear with us on this day of strike,'' said Erlinda Baares, president of a jeepney operators' association.

''We are not the only beneficiaries but you, too. We are taking your cause because all of us will benefit from it,'' she said.

''We should oust Erap from his post because he is not responsive to the needs of the masses. We voted him so we have the right to remove him from his post,'' Baares said in Filipino.

Joining the transport strike were the Cotabato City Drivers' Association, Cotabato City Transport Service Cooperative, Awang Transport Organization and Muslim-Christian Drivers and Operators' Association.

Government offices were open although many employees were absent. Mayor Muslimin Sema earlier mobilized at least 40 government vehicles to ferry employees and stranded commuters.

Maj. Luisito Marcellino, 3rd Marine Battalion Landing Team chief, also dispatched trucks and military vehicles to assist the commuters, mostly government workers.

In Angeles City, the anti-oil cartel and anti-deregulation alliance People's Protest-Central Luzon began gearing up for a regionwide transport strike on March 27 to demand an oil price rollback and the nationalization of the oil industry.

Member organizations of the alliance on Monday night set up protest centers in Angeles City, Subic town in Zambales, Cabanatuan City, Balanga town in Bataan and Malolos town in Bulacan, according to Ely Taruc, alliance co-chair.

The centers plan to gather protest signatures from consumers and hold street forums on the need to nationalize the oil industry, he said.

The centers are being maintained by the Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya chapters in Central Luzon until March 27.

Also on Monday, members of the Bukluran ng Makabayang Tsuper at Operaytor, an alliance member, led a motorcade and noise barrage around Angeles and San Fernando, both in Pampanga.

In Bulacan, protests held by Bumper members briefly paralyzed transportation in Malolos, Meycauayan and Bulacan towns.

In Bataan, drivers protesting the new rounds of oil price increases joined Bumper's Sakbayan run from Mariveles to Balanga.

At least 50 big transport federations, all under Bumper, agreed to stage the March 27 regional strike, Taruc said. With a report from Tonette Orejas, PDI Central Luzon Desk

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