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Transport group leader San Mateo arrested

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Quezon City (QC) police officers move to arrest chairman George San Mateo of the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (PISTON) on Dec. 5, Tuesday, even though he was already in the premises of the QC Hall of Justice to post bail. -- Michael Varcas / PHILIPPINE STAR

TRANSPORT GROUPS opposing the public utility vehicle (PUV) modernization raised a howl against the Quezon City (QC) police’s move on Tuesday to arrest chairman George San Mateo of the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (PISTON), even though he was already in the premises of the QC Hall of Justice to post bail.

Mr. San Mateo had gone there to post the bail of P4,000 on learning that a court had issued an arrest warrant against him on the charge of violation of the Public Service Act, which transport regulators slapped on him over a previous transport strike opposing the PUV modernization.

Mr. San Mateo’s group had led an alliance of stakeholders opposing the multibillion modernization program for public utility vehicles, which they describe as a thin disguise for a jeepney phaseout. They said the program would mire in debt thousands of small operators and deprive tens of thousands of drivers of their livelihood.

The Pinagkaisahang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON) president was supposed to post bail of P4,000 for a case filed against him by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) for leading a transport strike in February, according to a report by the Philippine Star.

Mr. San Mateo was brought to Quezon City Police District Station 10 along EDSA Kamuning, added the report.

Mr. San Mateo and his companions resisted attempts of the lawmen to cuff him and lead him to jail, questioning the move which they said violated his right to post bail.

The LTFRB, in filing the case last September, said the strike was prohibited under its Memorandum Circular 2011-04, which outlines the revised terms for the granting of certificates of public convenience.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Secretary-General Renato Reyes, Jr was quoted by PhilStar as describing the arrest warrant as “obviously harassment and a move to intimidate transport groups.”

Senator Grace Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services which successfully persuaded PISTON to call off a Dec. 4-5 strike with a promise to use her panel to hear out all issues on the modernization, had also lamented the timing of the release of the arrest warrant.

Her panel has set the hearing for Dec. 11, and Mr. San Mateo is among those expected to attend.

Reacting to the arrest warrant, Ms. Poe said, “It is unclear based on the cited section of the Public Service Act 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,” she said.

Also on Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr., said in response to Mr. San Mateo’s arrest, “I think he was warned that as a holder of a franchise, a certificate of public convenience, it is criminal and it is illegal for them to participate in any tigil pasada (transport strike).”

“As I said, it is also pursuant to a warrant of arrest duly issued by a court and therefore, there can be no harassment here. We are just allowing the rule of law to prevail,” he added.

“Well, as I said, the freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed by the Constitution subject to limitations set by law. And one limitation is, if you’re a holder of a certificate of public convenience, you can’t engage in a transport strike because the public eventually will be affected by their acts.”

“If you will be a tool to inconvenience the public, then that’s a violation of the trust reposed in you by the state because that certificate of a public convenience is not a right. It’s a privilege reserved only for those who can meet the obligations of franchise holders,” he added.

“Makipag-usap sila. Gaya ng ginawa ngayon nila. Kinancel nila ’yung transport strike at nais nilang magkaroon ng dayalogo sa gobyerno,” he said.

(They should talk with us, like what they are doing now. They canceled the transport strike and they wanted to have a dialogue with the government.) — main report by interaksyon.com with Rosemarie A. Zamora

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