By Minka Klaudia Tiangco
Under normal circumstances, 67-year-old Eduardo Galvez would be earning just enough to provide for his family through his work as a jeepney driver.
But after the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) crisis struck the country and mass transportation was banned during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), Galvez was among thousands of drivers who suddenly found themselves jobless.
Jeepney drivers are arguably the hardest hit among public transport drivers in the COVID-19 crisis. Even as Metro Manila eased into the general community quarantine (GCQ), jeepneys are still prohibited from operating.
Officials said this is because physical distancing guidelines are not properly observed inside jeepneys, and this might lead to the spread of COVID-19.
With this, displaced jeepney drivers from different parts of Metro Manila, including Galvez, turned to begging for money along streets they used to ply.
Galvez, along with a group of seven other jeepney drivers, have been carrying signs bearing words such as “Jeepney driver po kami, kaunting tulong lang, ma’am/sir (We are jeepney drivers, we just need a little help, ma’am/sir)” and begging for money along A. Mabini Street near Sangandaan in Caloocan City for over a week.
“Wala pa po kaming hanapbuhay, ayaw pa po kaming payagan bumiyahe, kaya ganito, humihingi kami ng tulong sa tao para mabuhay po kami (We do not have a livelihood, they refuse to allow us to work, that’s why we are asking for help from the people so we can stay alive),” Galvez told the Manila Bulletin.
Richard Libre, 34, said they start at around 12 p.m. and go home at 6 p.m. They split the money they collect equally among themselves. Each driver can come home with up to P400 per day.
“Mayroon naman po (kaming naipon bago mag-ECQ), kaso ubos na rin, eh (We had savings before ECQ was imposed, but we’ve spent all of that now),” he added.
The drivers said they received food and financial assistance from the government. However, for some of them, this is not enough to meet their families’ needs.
Libre, who is the only one who works in his family, said he has to provide for his two young children, aged 6 and 9, and his pregnant wife. He said he is not even sure if he can afford to enroll his children in school in the coming academic year.
Meanwhile, 28-year-old Jason Apao said he needs to help out his three other siblings, who he is sharing a rented room with. He said his sister has a 2-year-old child who needs milk and diapers.
Apao also said their landlord is not taking the implementation of ECQ as an excuse for them not to be able to pay rent.
He is also planning to save enough money for their fare back to Misamis Occidental.
Despite the recent arrest and subsequent release of Piston 6, a group of jeepney drivers who held a protest action against the ban on jeepney operations amid GCQ, Galvez said he is not afraid of being told off by authorities.
“Hindi kami kinakabahan dahil wala naman po kaming ginagawang masama (We are not anxious becase we are not doing anything wrong),” he said.
“Hindi naman kami hinuhuli dahil wala namang masama sa ginagawa namin (They do not arrest us because there is nothing wrong with what we are doing),” he added.
Apao and Libre, on the other hand, expressed unease over the thought of being arrested while they are begging for money.
Apao said Caloocan Mayor Oscar “Oca” Malapitan scolded them while they were begging on the streets on June 1. The next day, the police threatened to arrest them.
“‘Pag nahuli pa tutuluyan kami, aarestuhin kami (They said that if they catch us, they will arrest us),” he said.
“Bawal daw ‘yung ginagawa namin, may paraan daw para sa ginagawa namin (They told us that what we are doing is illegal, that there is a proper way to do the things that we are doing),” Libre added.
Some have claimed that by prohibiting jeepneys from operating during GCQ, the government is already implementing the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program.
Under the program, public utility vehicles 15 years old and older will be phased out. If this pushes through, hundreds of jeepney drivers in the country will lose their livelihood.
But Galvez fear the drivers no longer have a choice.
“Wala po kaming magagawa, gobyerno po may gusto non (We cannot do anything if that’s what the government wants),” he said. “Maghahanap kami ng ibang trabaho ‘pag natuloy ‘yung phaseout (We will look for different jobs if the phase out pushes through).”
Still, the jeepney drivers hope that the government will reconsider GCQ rules and allow them to earn a living through dignified work.
“Sana po matulungan niyo kami na magkaroon ng biyahe para po mabuhay kami (We hope you will help us work again so we can stay alive),” Galvez said.