Philippine judge clarifies Uber can run over Christmas, but no new drivers

MANILA (Reuters) - A Philippine judge clarified on Saturday that his court had ordered a temporary halt on granting permits to drivers wishing to join the networks of ride-sharing companies like Uber and GrabCar, but not suspended the firms' operations in Manila during the busy Christmas period. Judge Santiago Arenas issued the clarification on a commercial radio station a day after the Quezon City regional trial court raised confusion with a ruling that some people had interpreted as placing a near three-week ban on Uber and GrabCar drivers in the capital. "We are not stopping the operations of these companies," Arenas told dzMM radio station, explaining that it was the application for permits from prospective drivers that had been suspended. Government records showed there were currently about 3,500 applications pending with the regulatory agency from drivers wishing to participate in services run by Uber and GrabCar. The Philippines was the first country to regulate these types of app-based services, to help make up for inadequate mass transport in Manila, Southeast Asia's second most congested city after Jakarta, according to research firm Numbeo. The Philippine regional court blocked permission by the transport department for Uber, and competitor GrabCar, to ply Manila's streets, pending a hearing next week to decide a petition to ban them in the capital. In a petition to the court, a group of taxi operators and drivers said Uber and GrabCar had been given special treatment to operate without a franchise. "The income of taxi drivers was slashed by up to 50 percent because of the app-based transport, which does not follow tariffs imposed by the government," said Jun Magno, leader of the group, the Stop and Go Coalition. About 660,000 taxis operate in Manila, the Asian Development Bank estimated in 2010. Founded in 2009, Uber is now in 60 countries around the world but has faced more than 170 lawsuits in the United States alone, was banned in France and is popular but illegal in Australia. In China and India, Uber, backed by investment bank Goldman Sachs, faces strong competition from homegrown companies, fueled by the transport needs of large and growing populations. (Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing By Simon Cameron-Moore)