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Academic organization UPLB Sophia Circle holds benefit concert, pledges funds to UPLB jeepney drivers, operators

Featuring various local artists and university organizations, UPLB Sophia Circle sold over 800 tickets for the online concert.

Words by Aron Sierva and Reuben Pio Martinez

Last July 30, academic organization UPLB Sophia Circle held a benefit concert titled “LAKBAY” to celebrate its 21st anniversary. It featured performances from local artists such as We Got, LJ Verastique, Kurei, Giver Costibolo, Kristina Academia, Lucylle Tan, as well as university organizations UPLB Sandayaw, UP Silakbo, and UPLB Choral Ensemble.

The funds that were collected for the concert would go directly to the El Danda-Forestry-Junction Operators Drivers Assoc. Inc. (ELF-JODAI), an alliance of Public Utility Jeepney (PUJ) drivers and operators whose route includes UPLB and nearby municipalities.

Sila yung naghahatid sa pangalawang tahanan namin which is Elbi at sa aming pangalawang pamilya which is UPLB Sophia Circle [They are the ones who bring us to our second home that is Elbi, and to our second family that is UPLB Sophia Circle],” said the academic organization’s president and LAKBAY event head, Sugar Fab Iann Rubial.

The roads often taken

When the public transport sector was forced to suspend operations from late March to early June 2020, members of ELF-JODAI were among countless PUJ drivers who had to deal with a sudden loss in income (READ: Garaged).

Namamalimos na lang po kami dahil walang pasada [noon], wala akong maipapakain sa aking pamilya. Hindi naman kami nanghaharas ng mga tao para magbigay sila, tinatanggap namin ‘pag may nagbibigay kahit pabarya barya ay malaking tulong na sa amin [noon] [We resorted to begging because we had no work, otherwise, I would not be able to feed my family. We do not harass people into giving us; we accept even small amounts as they are already a big help for us],” said jeepney driver Felix Bayala, in a Facebook post by jeepney driver and operator alliance Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON).

Bayala also expressed that besides basic necessities such as food, he was also troubled by the financial burden of the continuation of academics through online classes. As a result, he decided to ask his child to temporarily halt studies because of their incapacity to purchase gadgets and load.

As restrictive quarantine protocols continued more than a year after the first lockdown was enforced, the struggle experienced by drivers and operators persisted because of the scarcity of commuters. In an exclusive interview with the Perspective last June, ELF-JODAI President Rolly Perez expressed his and his fellow drivers’ struggles in the past year.

Napakahirap ng biyahe ngayon. Walang pasahero, talagang tatakbo ka [nang] walang laman [It is hard to be a driver right now. You will be forced to travel even without passengers],” he said, adding that the P500 that he can once bring home to his family has dropped to only P100 because of the pandemic (READ: Byaheng Kalbaryo: Gaano na kalayo ang narating ng ating mga tsuper?).

In an October 2020 interview with the Perspective, Ka Mody Floranda, the national president of PISTON, revealed that nearly 800,000 PUJ workers faced unemployment. This was due to the pushes to phase-out old jeepney vehicles and a lack of financial support and income amidst restrictive quarantine protocols.

‘Yung pangalawang tatamaan nito ay ‘yung mamamayan— ‘yung mga ordinaryong manggagawa, mga ordinaryong empleyado, [at] mga ordinaryong mag-aaral na walang kapasidad na magkaroon ng sariling sasakyan sapagkat kagyat na epekto nito ay ‘yung mataas ng pamasahe e hindi naman tumataas ‘yung sahod ng mga manggagawa [It will also affect the citizensordinary workers, ordinary employees, and ordinary students who have no capacity to have their own vehicle, because the pushes for phaseout will lead to higher fares, all the while workers’ salaries do not even rise],” Floranda explained. (READ: Balik-pasada ng jeep, patuloy na pinapanawagan).

The phase-out of old PUJs is being hastened by the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP). The Department of Transportation (DOTr), Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), and Land Transportation Office (LTO) push to replace traditional PUJs with “modernized jeepneys” (READ: Mga jeepney driver sa Cainta, Rizal, idinaing ang hirap sa pasada ngayong pandemya; nawagang tutulan ang nakaambang phase-out).

PUJ workers slammed this move, as the push for a massive phase-out of vehicles will lead to them losing their jobs (READ: Amidst phase-out, six jeepney drivers jailed for protesting).

A way of giving back

It was such burdens that pushed UPLB Sophia Circle to choose jeepney drivers as their beneficiary. According to Rubial, they wanted to give back to ELF-JODAI drivers who have been struggling to make ends meet during the current health and economic crises.

Ramdam [namin] yung hirap ng mga jeepney drivers natin nitong kasagsagan ng lockdown at kasama na dun yung [ELF-JODAI]. Napitch sila ng isang member [to become our beneficiaries].  Kaya gusto namin ma-ease yung hirap kahit sa simpleng paraan na kaya namin [We feel the difficulty that jeepney drivers face during the lockdown, especially including ELF-JODAI members. They were pitched by one member to become our beneficiaries. We want to ease their difficulty even in our own simple ways],” Rubial explained.

Rubial admitted the difficulty of coming up with an idea to celebrate their anniversary, because of the constraints brought by quarantine restrictions.

“We wanted to give back sa aming constituents in Elbi kasi ito yung time na nauso yung community pantries pero ayun medyo nahirapan pa nga kami nung una kung [ano’ng] activity ang gagawin given na magkakalayo kami at online setup pa. [Kaya] yung way na [naisip] namin ay magkaroon ng isang online benefit concert [We wanted to give back to our Elbi constituents, given that this is the time when community pantries found prominence. However, we faced difficulty as to what activity we will do, given that we are away from each other and are constrained by the online setup. This is why we came up with an online benefit concert],” she added.
By the event’s end, LAKBAY was considered successful as UPLB Sophia Circle sold over 800 tickets for the benefit concert and the raffle draw. [P]

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