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18 hours of work for loose change: Driver takes last trip as pump prices, debts soar

Anna Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 21 2022 06:57 PM | Updated as of Jun 21 2022 11:32 PM

18 hours of work for loose change
Jeepney driver Artemio Singko contemplates his future as he goes to the terminal in Manila in the early morning of June 20, 2022 to ply his usual route. Anna Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

After 18 hours on the road, jeepney driver Artemio Singko, 54, worries he will again be taking home loose change.

Singko left his home in Taytay, Rizal at about 2 a.m. of Monday and headed right away to AGUAJODA terminal in Manila to pick up passengers. 

But even after an arduous day on the streets, Singko is still left dejected. 

By 7 p.m., he had less than P300 (about $5.51) in loose change as his entire net earning for the day.

“May papel ako sa bulsa pero pang diesel yun. Higit P2,000 na nagastos ko sa pakarga ngayong araw. Naghahabol pa ko ng biyahe ulit,” he said.

(I have some bills in my pocket but it's allotted for fuel. I spent more than P2,000 already for fuel today. So I will try to continue taking passengers.)

He continued: “Di na kami kumakain nang maayos. Kinakain na lang namin, pakbet, isang supot. Isang balot ng pakbet, bente. Dalawa bibilhin kasi apat anak ko. Paano pagkakasyahin yun?”

(Our food purchases have been affected. We just settle for pakbet nowadays. One order costs P20, but I get two because I have four children. Still, how do you think can that be enough for us?)

18 hours of work for loose change
Jeepney driver Artemio Singko shows the loose change from his collection box as he grapples with the high cost of fuel for his jeepney unit, on June 20, 2022. Anna Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

Earning P200-300 these days requires perseverance and a lot of luck, Singko said. 

Apart from the rising price of diesel, jeepney drivers are still struggling to get passengers.

“Hindi na ako bumabiyahe ng Sabado, Linggo. Kung may pasok nga, walang pasahero, sa mga araw na iyan pa kaya?” he said.

(I don't ply on Saturdays and Sundays anymore. Passengers are already scarce on workdays, how much more on weekends?) 

To make ends meet, Singko has borrowed heavily during the pandemic. His debt is now at P20,000 (about $367). 

“Dati ng bago pandemic, 1k isang araw. Ngayon, may onti tao, kala namin, ok na. Pero pumasok ng pumasok taas ng diesel. Nawala kita namin,” he shared.

(Before the pandemic struck, we were earning P1,000 per day. Now, with people already allowed to go out, we thought we'll be fine again. But the cost of diesel kept on rising. So we lost our earnings.)

“Nag-pandemic, halos 2 taon walang biyahe. Nung nagkaroon naman kami ng biyahe, wala kami kita. Minsan, P150 lang. Wala pa tao, pandemic kasi."

(When the pandemic struck, we did not ply the road for almost two years. And when we were finally allowed to, we can't earn anything. Sometimes, we have a P150 income. There's not much passengers yet, because the pandemic lingers.)

Singko also admitted he is at risk of completely losing his jeepney. 

18 hours of work for loose change
Jeepney driver Artemio Singko goes about his business at the jeepney terminal on June 20, 2022, unmindful if the day will bring him enough money for him to take home and use for his basic needs. Anna Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

“Dalawang taon na 'ko hindi nakahulog. Hulog boundary 'to. Kinakabahan ako baka kunin na ng may-ari,” he said.

(I haven't paid the owner of this jeepney for two years already. I have an obligation to pay the "boundary". So I'm worried that the owner might take this back.)

While Singko longs to find a different job, he said no one would hire him because of his age. 

“Overage na ako eh. Matagal na ko naghahanap ng trabaho. Kaso 54 na ko. Wala na tatanggap sa'kin. Kung kwarenta pababa, gusto,” he said. 

(I'm already overaged. I've been looking for another job for a long time already. But I'm already 54. Only 40 and below are acceptable to some employers.)

Faced with another diesel price increase this Tuesday, Singko decided on Monday that that would be his last trip.

He said he is now considering moving to the province. 

“Ang nasa isip ko, uwi na lang ako sa probinsya. Mabubuhay ka, magtanim ka 3 buwan. Kung aasa ka dito, palala nang palala, pahirap nang pahirap,” he said.

(I've been thinking about returning to the province. If you plant something for three months, you'll survive there. Whereas, it's been getting worse here, even as you keep hoping for the better.)

“Paano 'ko gaganahan bumiyahe, wala kita? Dati, masipag ako. Ngayon, wala eh. Sobra na pagod namin,” he added.

(How can I be inspired to work when I'm not earning? Before, I was really a hard worker. Now, it's not rewarding anymore, and we just end up getting very tired.)

18 hours of work for loose change
Jeepney driver Artemio Singko said on June 20, 2022 that he has been contemplating if he will continue driving considering that the income is barely enough for his family's basic needs, amid the increasing fuel prices. Anna Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

LAST TRIP

Singko is just one of the 30 or so drivers from their terminal who had temporarily ceased operating.

According to Dione Dayola, the AGUAJODA president, 30 percent of the 100+ jeepneys in the terminal have halted their trips because of skyrocketing fuel prices.

On Monday, only 30 jeeps actively took passengers, a number Dayola believes could go down further once the cost of diesel again spikes. 

18 hours of work for loose change
The rising price of diesel has cut the number of daily active jeepneys by 30 percent. On June 20, 2022, only 32 out of AGUAJODA terminal’s 100+ members hit the road. Anna Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

Dayola said many drivers are still hoping to receive fuel subsidy. Albeit a short-term solution, drivers, who had been spending more hours on the road than in their own home, are just longing for a break, no matter how brief.

So far, of the association’s 100 members, only six have received subsidy from the LTFRB. 

18 hours of work for loose change
Dione Dayola, AGUAJODA terminal president, expressed hope on June 20, 2022 that the cost of making their trips can be subsidized by the government for them to continue serving the riding public. Anna Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

18 HOURS A DAY, NO DAYS-OFF

Among those waiting is JR Brocales, another AGUAJODA driver. He shared that despite barely making P100 at times, he will come back to the terminal even after the price hike. 

18 hours of work for loose change
Jeepney driver JR Brocales is enjoying his first meal at 4 p.m. on June 20, 2022, before plying extra trips to supplement his earnings for the day. Anna Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

“Tiyaga na lang kaysa tumigil (kasi) lalo kami nganganga. Utang utang muna boundary,” he said. 

(I'd rather continue working hard, than stop making trips because that will just put us in a harder situation. For now, we'll just hold off paying our "boundary" for a latter time.)

He continued: “Problema sa taas ng diesel, abono ka pa sa diesel. Minsan pang diesel lang siyempre.” 

(The problem with the rising cost of diesel is it has eaten up our earnings. Sometimes, our collection are just enough for our fuel expense.)

To make ends meet, the driver no longer takes days off. 

For instance, although his jeepney was coding on Monday, he still decided to hit the road. 

“Kasi para may pang-bili bukas ng almusal, tanghalian.” 

(So I can have something to buy for breakfast and lunch for the following day.)

What he earned the previous day, he said, is not enough to buy food for five kids for three days.

“Hindi. Katulad kagabi, bumiyahe ako, mga P300-P400. Di naman sasapat yun. Lima palamunin ko. Wala pa sila hanapbuhay, bata pa,” he explained.

(It's not enough. Just like last night, I only earned P300-P400 from my trip. But that was not enough, because I have to feed five people. They are still young, and cannot work.)

Even worse, Brocales was caught violating the number coding scheme. His pleas for leniency fell on deaf ears. 

His fine? P350 (about $6.43), which would have been the family's meal ticket for two days. 

Brocales said he has no choice but to pay the fine because he cannot drive without a license. 

18 hours of work for loose change
Unfortunately, JR Brocales was fined P350 for violating the coding scheme. He said on June 20, 2022 that he did not have a choice as skipping duty would force him to take another debt. Anna Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

“Bumiyahe ako maaga. Kasalanan ko. Dapat 7 pa eh. Umalis ako biyahe 4. Nakiusap ako, hirap buhay. Wala, dirediretso sulat sa ticket,” he recounted his apprehension.

(I hit the road early. It's my fault. I should have gone out starting 7 a.m., but I left 4 a.m. I appealed to the enforcer, and said that life has really been hard. But it fell on deaf ears, and the enforcer was very quick in issuing me the ticket.) 

He went on: “Kita ko ng isang araw yung P350. Pag-ipunan ko na lang, P100 sa isang araw. 'Di pwede palampasin, mawalan ka lisensya.”

(The P350 fine is my earning for a day. I hope to recoup that by trying to earn an extra P100 per day in the coming days. I just can't surrender my license.)

Skipping work is not an option, he said as he would be forced to take on more debt. 

“Kinabukasan, mangungutang 'pag di ako bumiyahe ngayon para pang budget bukas,” he said. 

(If I don't ply today, I need to borrow money for our expenses tomorrow.)

It's a hard choice for drivers like Singko and Brocales. 

With price of diesel likely to surpass P100 a liter this year, these drivers fear not just the dwindling of their earnings but the possibility that their families would be forced to live on the streets.

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