Isinulat nina Shaina Ariane Masangkay at Lawrence Neil Sagarino
Ang pamilyar na mga busina ng jeep at hiyaw mula sa mga barker ay naglaho sa isang iglap. Maraming mga pampasaherong jeep ang tumigil ang operasyon matapos isailalim ang buong Luzon sa Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) noong Marso 2020. Matapos payagan ang balik-pasada, mabagal pa rin ang usad ng buhay ng sektor ng transportasyon sa gitna ng pandemya.
Isa si Crisostomo F. Falcunaya, apatnapu’t anim na taong gulang, sa mga drayber na naapektuhan ng pandemya. Limang taon nang namamasada si Tatay Crisostomo na may rutang Lipa-San Juan sa Batangas. Malaki na rin ang naitulong ng pamamasada upang itaguyod ang kanyang pamilya at pag-aralin ang kanyang anak.
Ngunit dahil sa pandemya, ay naapektuhan ang pangunahin niyang pinagkakakitaan. Ayon sa kanya, nabawasan ang kita nilang drayber. Ang dati kasing siyaman na upuan ay naging limahan o animan na lamang. Bagamat tumaas ang pamasahe ay aniya di pa rin ito sapat para tugunan ang kanilang mga pangangailangan.
“Halos pambili lang ng gasolina at konti lang din ang pasahero na sumasakay,” dagdag ni Tatay Crisostomo.
Sa kabila ng hirap na dulot ng pandemya, itininuturing pa rin ni Tatay Crisostomo na maswerte ang kanyang pamilya.
“Sa awa ng Diyos ay may hanapbuhay ang aking anak at asawa. Kahit papaano ay hindi naman kami nakaranas na magutom,” aniya. Sa kasalukuyan ay nagbabantay din siya ng kanilang munting tindahan at computer shop. Minsan naman ay ipinapasada niya ang kanilang tricycle.
Ngunit hindi ganito ang sitwasyon sa lahat ng pagkakataon. Byaheng Lipa-Tanauan, si Jomar Dimaculangan naman ay pitong taon nang namamasada ng boundaryhan nyang jeep.
“Malaki ang naging epekto ng pandemya dahil ang aking jeep na ginagamit ay boundaryhan lamang. Dahil sa pandemya napilitan akong tumigil sa pasada dahil bukod sa gastos sa pag-aayos eh kulang itong pambayad sa boundary at sa araw-araw kong gastusin.”
Dahil sa kakulangan sa kita, si Jomar ngayon ay rumaraket sa pamamagitan ng pagtitinda ng isda, pamimili ng baboy, at iba pang alternatibong pagkakakitaan dahil sa hirap ng buhay.
Ayon kay Romeo Macailao, presidente ng Mataas na Kahoy Transport Group, malaki ang naging pagbabago sa mga kinagawian ng mga driver bago ang pandemya. Ikinuwento niya kung paano noon ay halos walang labis ang kita ng isang drayber.
“Kung gusto nilang kumita ng malaki, talagang nakakaya nila kasi maraming pasahero, walang mga protocol na dapat sundin,” ani ni Macailao.
“Ang kinikita nila halos kulang pa sa pang-kain ng pamilya hindi katulad noon na sobra-sobra pa,” dagdag pa ni Macailao. Kung kumikita noon ang isang drayber ng walong daang piso (Php800) hanggang isang libong piso (Php 1000), nang magkaroon ng pandemya ay bumaba ito sa tatlong daan (Php300) hanggang apat na daang piso (Php 400) kada araw. Kung kaya’t hindi nakapagtatakang maraming drayber ang napilitang tumigil na lamang sa pamamasada lalo na yaong boundaryhan lamang at walang sariling pampasaherong jeep.
Hindi lamang mga drayber kundi pati mga operator ng jeep ay lubos na naapektuhan. Ayon kay Macailao, bumaba rin ang kita ng mga operator na halos kulang pa para sa pagsasaayos o maintenance ng kanilang mga jeep.
Dahil dito, maraming drayber ang pumasok sa iba’t ibang klaseng trabaho upang matugunan ang kanilang pang-araw-araw na pangangailangan. Ilan sa kanila ay pumasok sa construction. Ang iba naman ay pumasok sa mga food delivery services.
Tulong para sa mga drayber
Dahil sa hirap ng buhay, maraming mga driver ang humihingi ng tulong sa nasyonal at mga lokal na pamahalaan. “Kahit sa anong paraan sana matulungan lahat ng jeepney drivers lalo na sa panahon ngayon ng pandemya,” ani Dimaculangan.
Upang tulungan ang mga drayber, namigay ang ilang mga lokal na pamahalaan ng ayuda. Noong Nobyembre at Disyembre 2020, namigay ang Pamahalaang Panlalawigan ng Batangas ng tig-lilimang kilong bigas sa mahigit-kumulang 90,000 na drayber at operator ng jeep.
Ang lokal na pamahalaan naman ng Lipa ay may plano ring magbigay ng benepisyo o allowance sa mga jeepney drayber, operator, at multicab driver. Nagsimula ang pagpaparehistro sa programang ito noong 7-11 ng Mayo. Ayon sa Facebook post ni Mayor Eric B. Africa, mayor ng lungsod, isasailalim sa evaluation ang mga nagparehistro upang alamin kung sila ay kwalipikado sa programang ito.
Bilang bahagi naman ng Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Republic Act No. 11469) ng pamahalaan, isinulong ang programang service contracting upang matulungan ang mga driver. Sa programang ito, babayaran ng gobyerno ang serbisyo ng isang driver kada kilometro. Ayon kay Macailao, isa ring miyembro ng National Confederation of Transport Workers’ Union (NCTU), binabayaran ang jeepney drivers ng 11 pesos kada kilometro. Para masubaybayan ang byahe ng jeep, nagbigay ang gobyerno ng ayudang PhP 4,000 pambiling cellphone upang magamit sa service contracting.
“Dapat lingo-linggo iyong nabibibigay kaso hindi nasunod ang payout. Kaya nagbigay ng lump sum na bonus na Php 25,000,” paglilinaw ni Macailao. Dagdag pa ni Macailao na hindi rin naging organisado ang sistema ng payout dahil sa hindi maayos na tracking system.
Sa kabila nito ay maraming pa rin ang hindi nakakuha ng benepisyo mula dito. Kung kaya’t plano nila na palawigin at isaayos pa ang programang ito dahil malaki pa ang budget na hindi pa nagagalaw at naibibigay sa mga jeepney drayber.
Sapat nga ba?
Sa kabila ng mga programang ito ng pamahalaan, maraming drayber pa rin ang umaaray. Matapos ang isang taong lockdown, marami pa rin ang hirap kumayod. la hindi alintana ang banta ng pagkakaroon ng COVID-19.
Ani Macailao, kailangang intindihin ng pamahalaan na mahina ang kita ng mga drayber. Dagdag pa niya, may mga programa naman ang pamahalaan na pwedeng itulong sa sektor ng transportasyon at may mga pondo naman sila na pwedeng ilaan para sa mga drayber.
Kahit nasa maayos na kalagayan, hangad pa rin ni Tatay Crisostomo na matulungan ang mga drayber na tunay na nangangailangan lalo na ang mga may malilit pang mga anak at tanging pamamasada lamang ang pinagkukunan ng kabuhayan.
Sa loob ng isang taon, nananatiling hamon pa rin sa mga drayber kung paano sila mabubuhay ngayong panahon ng pandemya at limitado ang pasahero at byahe.
Samantala… mula Lipa, Batangas ay dumako tayo sa Munisipalidad ng Dinagat sa Mindanao. Pinamamagitan man ng karagatan at kapuluan ang dalawang lalawigan ay magkaparehas naman ang landas na tinatahak ng mga PUV drayber ng mga ito…
It’s tough! Sighs Eddie Sulapas, who is a Dinagat Motorcycle Drivers and Operators Association (DIMODA) member, about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected his livelihood.
It has been more than a year since the national government ordered the first lockdown nationwide adopted by the provincial LGUs. A part of the order is mandating many service providers to suspend their jobs temporarily. Sulapas was one of the unfortunate low-income workers in the Municipality of Dinagat, who had no other choice but to stay at home without pay.
Sulapas shared his anxieties even now after his income has seriously fluctuated from an average of 350 PHP daily to a 70 to 80% decrease, even beyond his regular working hours. With limited routes to reach, he has no choice but to grab what is left in the meantime. He is the only breadwinner of a family of five, of which two of his children are college students.
“Mahirap talaga, lalo na ‘pag nakikita mong nahihirapan ang pamilya ko” Sulapas said while controlling his emotions as he looked back on those difficult moments. His wife was a food vendor at the nearest high school before physical classes were put on hold.
According to DIMODA president Ramer Erno, at least 45 registered members were forced to stop, including other unregistered riders pandemic. For almost three months since the suspension, they were restricted to operate aside from private travels within the municipality.
It has brought them nothing but loans and hunger in the family. In fact, some drivers ventured to other jobs like carpentry, fishing, or farming that could allow them to earn despite the dreadful situation.
Based on the latest Labor Force Survey (LFS) in March 2021 conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the country’s unemployment rate fell by 7.1%. It is the lowest since the pandemic hit the nation and its economy after establishments suspended operations, sending home a large number of workers.
During the first months of the country under the pandemic, PSA released LFS indicating the highest unemployment record, an all-time high with 17.7% or 7.3 million jobless adult Filipinos. The rising-rate was added from January 2020 at 5.3% while 5.1%from the year 2019.
“This is a record high in the unemployment rate reflecting the effects of the economic shutdown to the Philippine labor market due to COVID-19,” stressed National Statistician Claire Dennis Mapa in a press conference held last June 5, 2020, discussing the May 2020 Inflation and April 2020 Employment Statistics.
Moreover, 13 million individuals had jobs but are unable to report due to COVID-19 protocols. Nearly half or 48.8% are service providers that cover public utility vehicle drivers, including Mr. Sulapas and his fellows. Commonly, these types of workers are dependent on customers for day-to-day income.
Ray of Hope
Despite the financial and moral devastation caused by the pandemic, DIMODA members have shown the courage to find other ways to provide for their families. Many have gone back to fishing and farming, which are essential jobs in providing enough food while passing the borders remain strict and stocks of food can hardly reach the island. Sulapas as well used his prior skills in carpentry to at least earn even a small amount.
On the other hand, a number of assistance from various organizations have reached out to them to provide money as well as in-kind relief, such as. livelihood materials and groceries that can supplement their daily needs.
One of the government’s responses under Bayanihan To Heal As One Act (Republic Act No. 11469) is the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), which gives informal economy workers or daily wage earners a dole out of PhP 5,000 through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Sulapas’ family was a SAP beneficiary
Aside from this, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) also instituted the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) program, which aims to assist displaced, underemployed and seasonal workers greatly affected by the pandemic. It provides a contractual job for 10 days or more but not exceeding 30 days. Sulapas was hired through the TUPAD program under a one-month contract, in which he rendered community service such as cleaning the streets, maintaining common public facilities and infrastructure, and creating community gardens in various locations in his barangay.
However, DIMODA President Erno clarified that only some of their members qualified for the SAP and TUPAD even if all of them lost their jobs. After initial assessments conducted by the DSWD, they considered the owned properties of the prospect beneficiaries due to limited budget allocation at the municipal level. Hence, drivers who were able to build concrete houses and have appliances, but are all financially struggling, were still not included in the list.
In spite of this, some private groups reached to them being one of the most affected sectors due to travel restrictions. The school head teacher of Cab-ilan National High School, one of the three community schools in the town, Concorde Alber Deniega, with his family, handed out food packs last December as part of their annual outreach program.
“People were ordered to use only private vehicles, and public transport was suspended,” Deniega said, when asked why DIMODA was chosen to be their beneficiaries.
He added that the only basis was an informal interaction with the drivers because of the strict policy in limiting the people who can go out. It is an excellent way to prove their needs during the crisis.
Moreover, Marielle Joyce Odtojan, the town’s Local DRRM Officer who worked closely with the MIATF- Dinagat in monitoring and responding to the local COVID-19 situation, has seen how their policies impact the daily-wage earners like the PUV drivers. She organized her high school batch’s Tulong Dinagatnon activity that distributes food packs to suspended workers, particularly DIMODA members.
“Even without their casual pre-pandemic work, they are also frontline workers and vital service providers who can ferry emergency passengers,” Odtojan explained. She even mentioned how these drivers helped them when they were still students who sometimes need a ride to school. That is why, as professionals already, it is now their task to give back to their service.
Facing Risks in New Normal
Although both Deniega and Odtojan expressed their hopes that more people would help this sector still in difficult situations amid the pandemic, most especially the poor.
In fact, due to the unexpected surge of confirmed cases in the municipality and additional daily deaths because of COVID-19 in the province, the town officials released another executive order, in accordance with the national guidelines of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases for the Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ), which is the current status of Dinagat.
While PUV drivers are allowed to operate, only one person per motorcycle is permitted to ride a vehicle. Generally, people must also stay at home and must only go out for essential errands.The pandemic has indeed drastically changed the way PUV drivers earn a living.
“Even in fear, I still have to do this work because it is my only job and my family is hungry,” Sulapas said in Bisaya on taking risks of ferrying passengers who might be carriers of the virus.
The reality is that many frontline workers, such as PUV drivers, endure to provide for their families while rendering their services to other people. For over a year now, their untiring efforts are not compensated fairly.
Yet, in spite of the risks of their jobs, they did not necessarily stop the work.
Sulapas is only one of the DIMODA members willing to hurdle the test of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are part of the essential workforce of the community and the nation.
Yet, despite their hard work, they only earn very little. With the pandemic, their income could fall even lower.
It is tough, but they have no choice.