DOTr reiterates legality of arrest warrant vs. PISTON leader

MANILA -- The Department of Transportation (DOTr) on Tuesday said the arrest warrant issued against militant transport group PISTON leader George San Mateo for leading a transport strike last February was based on legal grounds.

The Quezon City (QC) Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 43 has issued the warrant against San Mateo Tuesday for violating Commonwealth Act No. 146 or the Public Service Act for allegedly encouraging jeepney drivers and operators not to provide rides to commuters in protest of the public utility vehicle modernization program (PUVMP).

The QC Prosecutor's Office has determined probable cause on the complaint filed by the DOTr and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) against the transport leader.

DOTr reiterated that jeepney operators and drivers should comply with the guidelines on the grant of franchise, among which is that PUVs should not abandon their routes/lines to the inconvenience of the riding public.

We respect jeepney operators/drivers' right to stage a protest rally and exercise their right to organize and assemble. What we oppose, however, is when their protest is in the form of 'tigil pasada' wherein they inconvenience the riding public, the department said in a statement Tuesday.

The moment an operator applies and is granted a franchise, he agrees to be bound by the conditions of such franchise and the consequences in case of violation, it added.

The DOTr refuted the statement of Sen. Grace Poe that it uses underhanded tactics for the court to implement the arrest order and that it respects the freedom of assembly of transport organizations.

DOTr, under the leadership of Secretary Tugade, assures Senator Poe, as well as the public, that the agency would not use underhanded tactics to compel our courts to issue such order. As always, we allow the courts to decide on such cases and let due process take its course, the transportation department stressed. We, too, share the sentiment of the good senator that everyone has the right to peaceably assemble. However, to hold a franchise is not a right, but a privilege, granted by the state.

Poe, who is the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Public Services, said the timing of the release of the arrest warrant against San Mateo casts doubt on the intent of the complainant in filing such charges.

She likewise pointed out that everyone has the right to peaceably assemble and that it is still unclear based on the cited section of the Public Service Act (PSA) what exactly San Mateo violated. If holding a strike is tantamount to a violation under any memorandum of the LTFRB, then the proper penalty should have been a fine or suspension or cancellation of their franchise, not threatening their leader with incarceration, the senator said.

Police arrested San Mateo at the Quezon City Hall of Justice, as he was about to post a PHP4,000 bail for his case before the Quezon City MTC.

San Mateo was accompanied by his legal counsel Atty. VJ Topacio of the non-government organization Free Labor Legal Assistance Center as well as former Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio.

The QC MTC eventually issued a release order allowing San Mateo to post bail.

Source: Philippine News Agency