What used to be flocked with students, teachers, and workers waiting for a jeepney ride to “U.P. College” and a barker yelling “Kaliwa!”, “Kanan”, “Forestry”, or “U.P. gate!”, the El Danda street corner in Los Baños town, Laguna is quieter compared to its usual pre-pandemic scenario.
Public transport, specifically Public Utility Jeepneys (PUJs) in Laguna haven’t been fully operational since the lockdown, creating a major blow on the livelihood of jeepney drivers.
Rolly Perez, a jeepney driver for 27 years, has managed to support his family of six children, with two having graduated from college. Being in the transport industry for decades, he and his fellow jeepney drivers are already feeling the toll the pandemic has on their livelihood; they haven’t been able to come up with their regular income since they stopped operating due to the community quarantine and the transportation modernization program conveniently phased out traditional jeepneys under the pretext that modern and “roadworthy” PUJs and Public Utility Vehicles (PUVs) are safer and compliant to health standards.
In Metro Manila’s case, traditional jeepneys are at the bottom of the public transport hierarchy which is a list of modes of public transport that are allowed to operate. They have to be tested for roadworthiness and safety before they could operate and if it fails, it’s either they lose their job or they succumb to the program’s system in which they have expressed their concerns over the operator’s franchise ownership and the expensiveness of the unit.
Garaged by the pandemic
From a meager income ranging from Php 300-500 per day, the Jeepney drivers from El Danda-Forestry-Junction Operators Drivers Assoc. Inc. (ELF-JODAI) are barely able to make ends meet even before this health crisis started. With the public transport freeze from March 16 to June 1—traditional jeepneys are still not allowed to operate in Los Baños unless they comply with requirements set by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) in line with the modernization program and quarantine protocols where a special permit has to be secured and their jeepneys have to be checked for compliance. Even if they are allowed to operate, their passengers consist mainly of students, teachers, and staff from the university and nearby schools, which are mostly attempting to make distance learning possible, making it difficult for them to regain what they lost.
According to Ibon Foundation, an independent research think tank, jeepney drivers have lost an estimated Php 78,000 in earnings during the three-month long transport ban. Considering this estimation, the average jeepney driver in Metro Manila (MCU-Rotonda route via Taft Ave.) who worked 12 hours a day, six days a week could earn roughly Php 1,000 a day. Compared to Laguna, specifically the route from Calamba to Los Baños where the population is not as dense as Metro Manila and that the average number of passengers per trip is less, income reaches Php 500 at most for Elbi drivers.
The transport sector is considered one of the most vulnerable sectors during this crisis since they rely on daily earnings, making their working condition likened to “no work, no pay” policy.
“Malaki ang nawala sa amin. Pag [bumiyahe], pag-uwi may pera, kinabukasan panibago ulit,” laments Monico Mones of ELF-JODAI, as he recounts his routine as a jeepney driver since 1993. With less than Php 1,000 net income per day, they could only make less than Php 30,000 a month; a large percentage of their income goes to their daily needs and not enough for savings or emergency expenses which are essential in lessening their exposure and vulnerability to risks. According to former National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia, the recommended average monthly income of a family of five is estimated at P42,000 a month to be considered living above the poverty line.
With the pandemic burning a bigger hole in their pockets, organizations and youth groups have initiated donation drives for the kings of the road. Last June 3, the Serve the People Brigade Task Force Community Unit Response (STPB TF CURE) started the “Drive for ELBI Drivers”, a donation drive for the jeepney drivers in Los Banos, Laguna, which aimed to provide food and relief packs. Aside from these provisions, the drivers were also given seeds and were educated about the basics of gardening and vegetable growing. On June 10, A group of college students from Nueva Ecija, with some of them studying at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), initiated “TsuperHero”, humanitarian assistance for 50 Novo Ecijano jeepney and tricycle drivers. And last June 19, “TAHAkin19: Tulong at Ayuda para sa Hari ng Kalsada”, an online fundraiser spearheaded by Philippine Science High School’s (PSHS) batch 2019 in which the proceeds will be donated to Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide’s (PISTON) donation drive for jeepney drivers.
Aid from private organizations and the government’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP) temporarily eased the burden brought by the crisis especially for those affected in the transport sector, but the P5,000-P8,000 government subsidy will only be enough for a few weeks. Jeepney drivers have begun to beg in the streets of Metro Manila and some even turned their jeepneys into makeshift houses in the once busy Tandang Sora Terminal because they could no longer afford to pay house rent.
Driver’s burden on modernization
With jeepneys being least prioritized in returning operation, Mang Rolly and his fellow drivers feel disheartened that they still won’t be able to take the streets. “Hindi makatao, ginigipit talaga nila yung tao sa hanay ng transportasyon,” he added. The drivers feel as though the government took advantage of the pandemic in order to strictly implement the phaseout because as of today only P2P buses, tricycles, Transport Network Vehicle Services (TNVS), public utility vehicles and “modernized” public utility jeepneys are allowed to operate.
The Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program aims to replace the traditional jeepneys with “modern” units. These “modernized” units cost at about P1.6 million to P2.1 million which will be paid by the jeepney drivers themselves although, there is an P80,000 subsidy, a loan at 6% interest payable within seven years and amortization of P800 per day is still too much for them to bear.Small jeepney operators will lose the franchise ownership over their jeepneys when they consolidate with the suggested cooperatives because single-unit operators will no longer be eligible for a franchise; the minimum number of jeepneys for franchise eligibility will become 40 with which only benefits big operators and ultimately kill smaller operators. The modern units, new routing scheme, ownership, and salary guidelines will be put in the hands of the corporate sector. Although the promises of this program will create a fixed income for drivers, operators will lose franchise ownership over their jeepneys in which the majority of them have been paying for years just to be granted sole ownership.
According to ELF-JODAI, this is only seen as favorable for big jeepney operators and will ultimately neglect small operators and drivers. “So dapat inisip nila, pagkatinuloy natin ang phaseout, daan-libo ang mawawalan ng trabaho, daan-libo magugutom,” adds Mang Rolly. According to Senator Grace Poe, the P2 billion budget for the jeepney modernization can only fund 25,000 jeepneys out of the 234,000 jeepneys nationwide.
Although there is a subsidy and a loan that’s payable within seven years and amortization, it is still too much for them to bear. Jeepney drivers have only enough income for daily expenses and purchasing a unit that’s worth at least P1.6 million will become a burden to them. “Yung dating walang utang, ngayon magkaka-utang,” said Mang Rolly. Most jeepney drivers and operators in the transport sector have been in the industry for decades and are already qualified for retirement if it weren’t for their poverty-stricken lives. The least they can do now is not pass the burden of debt on their children and their next generation.
Jeepney drivers such as Mang Rolly and his comrades also questioned the durability of the new units imposed by the Department of Transportation (DOTr). “Sa nipis ng lapat non, sa nipis ng paggawa. Inayos lang yon, maganda tingnan kasi bago, bagong pintura. Sa tingin namin hindi rin tatagal ang ganung klaseng sasakyan.” In a test run done in Negros, Diego Malacad, secretary general of United Negros Drivers and Operators Center (UNDOC), said that the model vehicles were not durable and would not be able to endure the country’s terrain since they encountered several problems on their way to Negros Oriental.
If the DOTr’s intention is to create a safer environment for commuters at the same time promote modernization and development in the transport sector, specifically for PUJs, the jeepney drivers and operators need to be at the top of their list of priorities since they are the most affected.
Participatory development views development as a two-way process in which beneficiaries and stakeholders are able to convey their idea of development instead of imposing an idea that may be detrimental to the other. Jeepney drivers can be considered experts in their field such that their idea of a developed transport system and how they will be affected should be considered as well.
“Hindi namin tinututulan yung modernization. Ang ano lang namin doon ay dapat rehab hindi phaseout,” according to Mang Rolly. The drivers and operators are willing to improve the standard of their vehicles as long as they have the funds for it. With the current implementation, it seems as though they were left out.
“Dapat bago ipatupad yan, [sinurvey] kung ilan yung tatatamaan. Pag sinabing tatamaan talagang tatamaan yan, lahat ng transport ng jeep,” he added. The need for input from both sides is essential in determining what could be the most effective way of achieving a modernized transport system without compromising the livelihood and the years of investing in jeepneys of those most affected—the drivers and operators.
The government can invest in local manufacturers to have a cheaper alternative as well as investing in the development of science and technology in the country. They can also invest in these drivers and operators to help with the maintenance, rehabilitation, and overall development of the jeepney transport sector.
Three years after the implementation of the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program, jeepney drivers still demand their ideas to be acknowledged by the government and adjust the modernization program to a more socially just project that is both uplifting to the drivers and operators as well as beneficial to the commuters and the environment.
“Nananawagan kami, lalo na kay President Duterte, na pag-aral muna yung phaseout, nakikita niya naman three months palang nangyayari ngayon marami nang jeepney drayber namamalimos. Tignan din nila yung nasa baba hindi lang yung nasa ‘taas. Doon na kami nabubuhay sa kalsada. Sana makarating yung panawagan namin [mula] sa hanay ng EL danda para at least yung mga kasama naming nagugutom ngayon eh makakbiyahe na,” urged Mang Rolly as he calls for the return of jeepneys on the road. [P]