TACLOBAN CITY-Church officials and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) have called on the national government for a “just and inclusive approach” to the country’s transport modernization program as the deadline for the Jan. 31 phaseout of the iconic jeepney is drawing nearer.

“We urge the government to ensure a just transition that protects the livelihoods of jeepney operators and drivers, who are the backbone of our transportation system, while also laying the groundwork for a more efficient, interconnected, and cost-effective mass transport network that benefits all,” said Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, the president of Caritas Philippines, the social action arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

“We welcome the government’s commitment to improve public transportation. However, we cannot condone a modernization process that disregards the human cost,” added Bagaforo in a statement.

On Jan. 16, transport groups Manibela and Piston held another nationwide transport strike, as jeepneys that did not join the consolidation under the government’s Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) will be identified as unregistered or “colorum” starting Feb. 1 this year.

Once the jeepneys are tagged as unregistered, their franchise will be revoked and they cannot legally drive their vehicles on the road.

Consolidating jeepney drivers and operators allows them to form cooperatives, as the first step in the modernization phase.

Bagaforo urged President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration to provide livelihood and skills development assistance to the displaced drivers, Bagaforo said that the government should invest in local jeepney manufacturers.

Meanwhile, CHR, the government’s rights body, reacted to the modernization program, saying: “It is the State’s responsibility to efficiently subsidize the program, develop an effective communication strategy for the general public, and make PUVMP rules more understandable.”

The commission also warned that “adhering strictly to rigid consolidation deadlines may jeopardize PUV operators’ right to a sustainable livelihood.”