Uber defies Philippine suspension order

By AFP   August 15, 2017 | 01:52 am PT
Uber initially obeyed the order and shut down its app on Tuesday morning but relaunched in the afternoon. 

Ride-hailing giant Uber on Tuesday defied a Philippine government order to shut down, branding the suspension a "blatant violation" of its rights but risking its drivers being arrested.

Philippine authorities announced on Monday that they would suspend Uber for one month for failing to have the proper permits to license its drivers.

Uber initially obeyed the order and shut down its app on Tuesday morning, triggering anger from commuters who lashed out at the government for taking away what had become a trusted alternative to notoriously bad public transport.

But on Tuesday afternoon Uber relaunched the app, telling commuters via Twitter that it had launched a legal appeal and would continue operations until the dispute was settled.

In its motion for reconsideration to the transport authority, it said the suspension was a "blatant violation of USI's (Uber's) right to due process".

The government replied immediately, saying the suspension was still in force and threatening to arrest Uber drivers who violated it.

"The order stands," said Aileen Lizada, spokeswoman of the transport authority.

"Uber is online again, let us apprehend," she told reporters, narrating her order to traffic enforcers.

Uber officially launched in Manila in 2014 and the service was later rolled out to a few provincial cities.

The transport authority requires Uber to get permits for its drivers and vehicles, in the same way taxi companies must. However, Uber insists the drivers are independent contractors and thus do not have to get the permits.

The dispute is Uber's latest hurdle in Asia, where it also faced a two-month in hiatus in Taiwan this year. It has operated illegally in Thailand since 2014, though law enforcement has been patchy, with roughly 1.5 million people downloading the app.

The firm is currently lobbying for a tweak to the decades-old motor law to allow ride-sharing apps in the kingdom.

The Philippines suspension enraged many local commuters who find Uber and similar companies a better alternative to taxi drivers, who often demand higher fares than what is on their metres, decline to pick up customers and drive shoddy vehicles.

"To the LTFRB, quit being scumbags and open your eyes to what people need," Twitter user @sodachar said in reference to the transport authority.

Politicians also weighed in.

"The decision of the LTFRB to suspend Uber is both cruel and absurd," said Senator Grace Poe, who heads the upper chamber's transport committee.

Uber has 66,000 drivers in the Philippines, company representatives told a Senate hearing this month.

President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman on Tuesday defended the transport authority's decision.

"We affirm the positive and beneficial service offered by the transport network companies. However as per LTFRB, Uber Systems unduly challenged its rules and instructions," Ernesto Abella said told reporters.

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