Photo essay: End of the line for jeepney drivers?
Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ). General Community Quarantine (GCQ).
For a group of drivers living inside their vehicles since March 15, 2020, these meant waiting for more than 80 days to ply their routes again and resume their livelihood.
But, on June 1, the first day of the GCQ in Metro Manila, those hopes were dashed as the government decided that no public utility jeepneys (PUJs) will be allowed on the streets yet.
Just as there was no plan on how most people going back to work would commute, except for the trains and bus augmentations on major roads, there seems to be no concrete plan on the fate of the jeepneys drivers.
These jeepney drivers are stuck near a small park surrounded by trees across the Chino Roces monument in Barangay Paligsahan in Quezon City.
The drivers are mostly migrants, many of them from Dumaguete, Negros Oriental. Aside from their home province, the only thing these drivers have in common is that their routes, one way or another, cross or travel along Roces Avenue in Quezon City.
Similar to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), these domestic migrants save every centavo they can so they can send money to their family or relatives back home in the provinces, even if it means renting small rooms in slums near their routes or living in the jeepney. Most of them rent the vehicle from operators.
When the quarantine was imposed in Metro Manila, they not only lost their dwellings but also their livelihood. It also meant that living in their jeepneys became not an option but a necessity.
The short span of time between the announcement of the quarantine and its implementation gave them no time to go home to their provinces, assuming they had money saved to travel to begin with.
They wouldn't have survived their ordeal if it weren't for good samaritans who have helped them for almost three months. Some drivers were still allowed to occupy their rooms in the slums where they live, even without rent. Some families shared their kitchen and gave them water.
Village officials, led by Barangay Captain Cecilia Tiamson, were also very helpful throughout the quarantine, regularly giving them relief goods in the form of rice and canned goods, even if most of them were not considered residents of the village.
Some of the drivers were even considered for the Social Amelioration Card, a cash aid worth P8,000, even though they are not registered residents of Bgy. Paligsahan, because they got stranded there when the quarantine was imposed.
Still, it is the long wait for their fate and the fear of losing their livelihood in the long run that's terrorizing them.
"Parang malabo na. Dati sabi phaseout, hindi nila nagawa. Naghigpit na lang sa kundisyon (sa pag-rehistro)," said one of the youngest in the group, 29-year-old Julieto Villaflores, who also hails from Dumaguete.
(The chances appear dim. They planned on a phaseout before and were not able to implement it. Now, they have become more strict in allowing registration of a jeepney.)
"('Pag rehistro) tignan ang makina, tignan ang katawan - dapat daw nasa gilid na ang pinto, yung gulong hindi na puwede sa tabi ng driver. 'Pag inisa-isa talaga, hindi ka papasa," Villaflores added.
(Before a vehicle can be registered, they check the engine, the body -- the door has to be located on the side now, the spare tire beside the driver has to be removed. In the end, they won't approve the registration.)
He doubts if his unit will pass registration because the jeepney he uses, which went into service in 1991, is just one year younger than him.
"Siguro, yung wala pang 10 years old, baka pumasa (Maybe they will allow units not more than 10 years old)," said Gerry Taño, also from Dumaguete.
But all of the jeepneys marooned at the park are all over 10 years old.
"Doon sa kabilang linya, may Hino na (There are now new units in other routes, a Hino)," said Taño, referring to a new class of public utility vehicles (PUVs) that has been approved by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).
These units are powered by a Hino engine, air-conditioned, and have higher head room so that passengers can fit while standing up; they're sort of like a mini-bus but smaller.
But Taño and the other drivers fear this is exactly where it is headed--the eventual phaseout of all traditional jeepneys. What they fear most is that there won't be enough jobs for everyone under the government's PUV Modernization Program.
There are no clear implementing guidelines yet, but it appears that the "Hinos" and electric jeepneys will be replacing the old, clunky, smoke-belching units that most of these drivers are using.
"Masarap nga yun air-con, tapos pila lang," said Taño, referring to the system of dispatching modern PUVs from point to point, which eliminates the old way of being able to pick up passengers along a route and the chance of earning more.
The biggest hindrance to modernization is the cost. A Hino PUV reportedly costs around P1.8 million, and the modern electric jeepneys, around P1.6 million.
Some operators are forming cooperatives to be able to take loans for the new PUVs. But many simply cannot afford it.
"Otsenta mil yata ang halaga ng trade-in nung luma (They only value the old units at P80,000 for trade-in)," Villaflores said. With this amount that the operators may get for the old units, the drivers feel many of them will just stop operating.
At 66 years old, Vito Ganob should already be retired. But with three out of his six children still dependent on him back in Dumaguete, he says he still cannot go home.
"Maka-byahe man ulit, baka kalahati lang (Even if the old units are allowed, the number of passengers will be halved)," Ganob lamented. Even if the old jeepneys deemed still "road worthy" are going to be allowed, the stricter rules on social distancing under the new normal would eventually cut their income by at least half.
"Mabuti pa, sabihin na lang sa amin para hindi kami naghihintay (They should just tell us the real score so we won't have to wait)," Cerila Lumanta, 67, wife of one of the drivers who lives in one of the jeepneys, said.
"Inaasahan na lang namin yung Balik Probinsya (Maybe our only recourse is the Balik Probinsya program)," she said, referring to the government's plan to transport millions left unemployed by the coronavirus pandemic back to the provinces.
But even this option has hit a snag. The drivers feel they are being given the run-around as they had to shuttle back and forth between the barangay, the city government, and even the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to process their papers. In the end, a security guard at city hall told them they had run out of application forms.
Recently, the government sounded out that jeepney drivers can be hired for contract-tracing of people linked to Covid-positive cases.
Under this plan, the drivers/contact-tracers will receive a minimum of P350 a day. This is a far cry from the P500 minimum to a high of more than P1,000 daily which they earn whenever they're plying their routes.
But the drivers fear their lack of training risks exposing them to the virus. They noted that if some health workers who have had education and training in handling such cases got sick despite all the precautions, then they would be even more at risk of catching the virus.
Several jeepney federations have echoed this fear.
But some, like 47-year-old Tata Detumal, are willing to take the risk.
"Kung saan may trabaho, doon na lang rin makipag-sapalaran," he said.
Drivers are camped out at a park across the Chino Roces circle in Barangay Paligsahan, Quezon City, on June 1, 2020. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
The drivers, most of whom rent out the units from operators, were stranded when the enhanced community quarantine was first implemented on March 15, 2020. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
Some of the drivers were able to go home to the provinces but most, due to lack of time and money, just opted to stay in the area where they ply their routes. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
Julieto Villaflores, a 29-year-old driver from Dumaguete City, fears the chances of getting back on the road are slim because old units are being phased out under the government's PUV modernization program. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
Gerry Taño, 59 years old, says the jeepney he drives is more than 10 years old, and the operator will probably give up since he does not have enough money to buy a new modern unit. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
Modern units such as this "Hino" PUV are bigger and more convenient but costs nearly P2 million. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
Vito Ganob (right), already 66 years old, fears jeepneys deemed not "roadworthy" by the government will be retired and those that will remain will be subjected to stricter guidelines. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
Boy Letijio and wife Cerila Lumanta are both senior citizens and would probably head home to Leyte. Lumanta said the government should just tell them what's in store for them instead of making them wait. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
Most of the drivers accept that changes would be made under the 'new normal' but whether that means making their jeeps compliant, or would be phased out, or they would be given other jobs, remains unclear to them. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
The drivers all lament that waiting for the unknown is what gives them anxiety. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
The drivers are also waiting for assistance, like the Balik Probinsya program, in case their jeepneys will not be allowed on the road anymore. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
They see and hear news of the lack of transportation for commuters and are anxious to get back on the road so they can fill this void. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
For now, they can only wait and live in their vehicles. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
Boy Letijio and wife Cerila Lumanta prepare their food, eat and sleep inside the jeepney. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
Vito Ganob gets food which the group sometimes prepares and shares with everyone in the park. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
Tata Detumal, 47, washes his clothes by the roadside. Basic necessities, such as washing clothes and bathing, are also done in the park after buying or fetching water from a nearby slum community. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
This whole scenario has been playing out every day for more than 80 days now as the group waits for the government's plan for drivers of traditional jeepneys. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
The government announced a slow phase-in of modern public utility vehicles (PUVs) starting June 22, but there was no mention of jeepneys being included. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
For now, these jeepney drivers can only can wait. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
Transportation Secretary Arturo Tugade has said jeepneys, together with other PUVs, will eventually be used to address the transportation shortage currently being experienced in Metro Manila. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News
But the jeepney drivers can only wait for now as to when and how a plan that would not displace workers like them will be implemented. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News