Every night, Emmanuel religiously portions his daily earnings to put food for seven on the table, to send five to get attractive college diplomas, and to pay for the house’s water and electricity.
Ruel and Emmanuel make roughly around ₱500 daily as drivers.
In jeepney modernization program by the government, Ruel and Emmanuel have to feed one more mouth – debt.
Environmentally friendly but anti-poor
“Bibilhin daw nila yung jeep namin sa halagang ₱30,000 tapos bibilhin namin sa kanila yung higit ₱1.5 milyon bagong jeep tapos may tubo pa yun kaya aabot ng ₱2 milyon (They say they will purchase our jeep with ₱30,000 and we will acquire the new jeeps for ₱1.5 million but if you add interest it will be worth ₱2 million),”
Ruel describes the scheme.
Under this scheme, jeepney drivers will only receive ₱30,000 as salvage fee for their old jeepneys which the government will dispose. Drivers will also receive ₱80,000 as subsidy from the government for the acquisition of new jeepneys. However the ₱110,000 they receive is still peanuts compared to the amount of ₱1.5 million they will be paying in 7 years. According to IBON, a progressive think tank, the current jeepneys cost only ₱200,000-₱400,000. The current jeepney costs almost one-seventh of the new jeepney.
Jeepney units include non-air conditioned, air conditioned, solar powered, and produce lower emissions. The new jeepney units are Euro 4 compliant meaning they emit less smoke and pollutants. Currently the jeepneys that dominate the Philippine roads are only Euro 2 and 3 compliant. The government claims to lessen pollution, the country needs to transition to new jeepneys.
The government says that it will provide loans to jeepney drivers. However, Ruel and Emmanuel think that the price of environmental protection are their livelihoods.
They pay the daily boundary or rent of ₱450-500 and usually bring home ₱500. In the new scheme, they have to pay ₱800 as boundary to compensate for the incurred debts.
With the new jeepneys, Emmanuel says the costs of purchasing new jeepneys are also passed down to consumers who will have to pay a minimum of ten pesos to ride the jeepney. Emmanuel estimates the minimum fare will be around ₱10, higher by ₱3 from the current regular fare.
“Lalaki pa huhulugan namin araw-araw (Our daily contributions will balloon),” Ruel is pertaining to the interest they have to pay every day to compensate for the possible debts to be incurred.
Jeepney drivers are made to choose between transition to modern jeepneys or loyalty to old jeepneys at the cost of their registration.
While fireworks and ringing bells will greet many Filipinos during New Year’s Day next year; announcements of revocation of jeepney registration will knock the doors of many jeepney drivers on New Year’s Day.
“H’wag sana kaming pabayaan ng gobyerno. May lima akong anak na nag-aaral. Kung mawawalan kami ng pangkabuhayan, saan pupunta mga anak ko? Hindi na namin kakakayanin yun (I hope the government does not abandon us. I have five children who are studying. If I lose my livelihood, where will my children go? We can not absorb that),” says Ruel.
“Hindi kasya yung kita namin ngayon at dadagdagan pa nila yung pahirap (Our earnings are insufficient and they’ll add to our burden),” says Emmanuel.
The issue of money awakened the creases on Ruel’s face. It did not matter to him if he lost count of the attempts jeepney drivers did to demand dialogues with the government as long as he will not see the day counting his daily earnings to pennies as few as his fingers because of debt.
Ruel can not count the number of words they heard from the government with regards to their plight but he could vividly recount the words Duterte threw to jeepney drivers.
“January 1, if you can’t modernize that, leave. You’re poor? Son of a bitch, go ahead, suffer in poverty and hunger, I don’t care.” Duterte said this while addressing soldiers in Marawi last week.
“Binoto namin siya dahil gusto namin ng pagbabago sa ekonomiya (We voted for him because we wanted change in the economy),” Ruel admits he and his friends voted for Duterte.
“Hindi niya tinupad ang pangako niya na tulungan ang mga mahihirap (He did not fulfill his promise to help the impoverished),” says Emmanuel while repairing his jeepney. Ruel nods in frustration.
If the government would shoulder all or half the ₱1.5 million, Ruel and Manuel said they will support the modernization program. “Kung nakakagaan po ng buhay namin at ng iba, susupportahan namin ang gobyerno (If it eases our life and other people’s lives, we will support the government),” said Ruel.
Paralyzed by nationwide strikes and disappointed with the recent national events, students have weighed their sentiments against the government policy. Denouncing it as ‘non-inclusive’ and ‘favoring only the elites’.
Clarenz Ocampo, a junior human ecology student, thinks that the program is “unfair” as jeepneys are coerced to transition in a very short amount of time without ample government aid. “Mababawasan yung ratio of passengers to jeepneys thus mahirap makasakay. Pangalawa, Mas mahal na bayad para macompensate yung gastos of the “modernization” plan (The ratio of passengers to jeepneys will be lower which worsens commuter experience. Secondly, a higher fare will be imposed to compensate for the cost of the modernization plan),” says Ocampo.
Christian Dulay, a senior agribusiness student, says “It’s a bold and progressive move, but it’s not inclusive. There is a great trade off once it is implemented. For sure implementation would be the greatest bottleneck of the program. I’m not entirely against the mandate of the program, but it is not viable as of the moment.”
It’s not only the drivers who will be affected by this abrupt transition. Students and ordinary workers have to shell out extra for their once affordable jeepney rides.
“Mas mahihirapan kami, wala talaga kaming kakakayanan (We’ll be overburdened, we really do not have the capacity to go against it),” Emmanuel says as tears crawled down his cheeks.
Emmanuel touches the rosary, says a prayer under his breath before his next journey.
He finally says,
“Sana hindi matuloy. (I hope it does not push through)”[P]
WORDS: John Albert Pagunsan; GRAPHICS: Jandelle Cruz
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