February 26, 2018, 3:36 am
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Piston leader arrested for leading strike

GEORGE San Mateo, national president of the transport group Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston), was arrested yesterday afternoon on the strength of court order for leading a transport strike last February.

Police arrested San Mateo at the entrance gate of the Quezon City Hall of Justice at around 1 p.m., even though he was being escorted by two congressmen and two lawyers.

He was brought to the Quezon City Police District Station 10 along EDSA Kamuning for booking and documentation after a brief confrontation that ensued when police blocked him from entering the Hall of Justice.

San Mateo was supposed to post bail for a standing warrant issued by Judge Don Ace Mariano Alagar of the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 43.

Alagar set a bail of P4,000, which San Mateo posted. 

Police said San Mateo walked out of the police station at around 4:45 p.m.

The Piston leader was charged with violating the Public Service Act. 

The case stemmed from a complaint filed by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) last September.

In its complaint-affidavit, the LTFRB said San Mateo violated the Public Service Law when he pursued the transport strike last February 27 despite a prohibition stated in a memorandum circular issued by the LTFRB.

The LTFRB said the strike against the government’s public utility vehicle (PUV) modernization program has affected thousands of commuters in Metro Manila and other parts of the country.

The board said conducting a strike as a means of protest against a government action is prohibited under its Memorandum Circular No. 2011-004.

Based on the memorandum, operators of PUVs “shall not resort to cessation of service as a sign or demonstration of protest against any government decision or action” nor “shall tolerate, allow, or authorize personnel to join others committing acts prejudicial to paralyzing transport services by intimidation, coercion, or violence.”

“Respondent cannot feign ignorance of the said prohibition since he is a former public utility vehicle operator and the said terms and conditions are deemed written into the Certificate of Public Convenience that was issued to him,” it added.

By conducting the transport strike, the LTFRB said San Mateo and his group “capitalized on the public necessity, which they were supposed to serve.”

The board said Piston also “deliberately preyed upon the need of the public for public transportation by ceasing operations.”

Because of the strike, the LTFRB noted that government had to suspend work and classes and provide vehicles to counter the effects of the strike.

On Oct. 30, QC Assistant Prosecutor Marvelous Madamba recommended that San Mateo be charged in court for violating the country’s public service law.

Madamba said San Mateo “knowingly and willfully” instructed members of Piston to conduct a nationwide strike. 

STRIKES CONTINUE

San Mateo said his arrest was only intended to sow fear among jeepney drivers and operators.

“They are doing this to frighten us. But we must be more courageous because now we see that this government is worthless,” he said in Filipino.

San Mateo said Piston will continue its planned transport strikes against the PUV modernization program in the coming weeks.

Piston canceled a scheduled jeepney strike last Monday following Sen. Grace Poe’s appeal to hold the discussions instead during a Senate hearing.

Piston, instead, held a transport caravan from Welcome Rotunda in Quezon City to Mendiola in Manila.

The group wanted government to rehabilitate jeepney units, instead of replacing them with newer and more expensive models.

HARASSMENT?

Poe questioned the timing and intent of San Mateo’s arrest, saying “everyone has the right to peaceably assemble.”

“Everyone has the right to peaceably assemble. It is unclear based on the cited section of the Public Service Act what exactly San Mateo violated,” she said.

She said San Mateo should be penalized with fine, suspension or cancellation of franchise, and not incarceration, if holding a strike is a violation under any memorandum of the LTFRB.

She said the Public Services Act should be revisited and studied carefully to result in a “more balanced interplay between public service, on the one hand, and the right to peaceably assemble, on the other hand.”

Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services, has scheduled on Monday next week a public hearing on the government’s modernization program of public utility vehicles.

LTFRB board member Aileen Lizada said government is just doing its job, “taking into consideration the existing laws.”

“We need to uphold the laws and set good examples otherwise we will be in a state of anarchy. The lesson here is to follow the law. Do not be like Maria,” said Lizada, referring to actress Maria Isabel Lopez, whose driver’s license was revoked for using the lane along EDSA designated for delegates of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the arrest order on San Mateo was neither harassment nor intimidation but a mere implementation of the law.

Roque denied that the arrest was part of President Duterte’s earlier warning that he will order the arrest of members and leaders of the legal fronts of the New People’s Army (NPA). Piston is one of the known militant or left-leaning organizations in the country.  – With JP Lopez, Jocelyn Montemayor, Evan Orias and Reuters 
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