For jeepney driver Benjamin Bobadilla, this is not enough to support his family of 9.
Written by John Mark Ayap and produced by Gabriel Dolot
Ever since he started working as a public utility vehicle (PUV) driver in the mid-70s, Benjamin Bobadilla, 64, of Batong Malake, Los Baños is used to earning around P1,200 to P1,300 a day. This does not include the possible P3,000 earning every time his jeepney was rented for private occasions. However, the pandemic slashed the only source of income he had as one of the family’s breadwinners — a role he shares with his eldest son.
Living a simple life, Benjamin, also known as “Ben” by his friends, is a father of seven kids. According to him, he became a jeepney driver because he saw the opportunity to earn money in the sector at a young age given that their family struggled even before. He would often wake up early, around 5 a.m., to prepare for his round trips. He would then end his day at around 2 p.m. when he is assured that he earned enough to make ends meet. He would trace the route around the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) carrying and picking up passengers who go in and out of the busy roads of the university.
Jeepney Driver Amid the Pandemic
It was a real challenge for them when the pandemic hit the country. During the imposition of community quarantines, most of his fellow drivers, including him, had no idea how they would provide for their families, given the sudden halt to their operation. With lockdowns immobilizing people coupled with the fear of transmitting and getting infected by the virus, most of them decided not to push themselves to drive and work for a few weeks.
More than anything, the pandemic affected their income the most. Benjamin can’t express anything but dismay as he shared the huge decline in their daily income now. Long gone are the days when he could secure a thousand pesos to provide for his wife and satisfy the needs of the household.
Now, Benjamin’s hard work guarantees him just around P300 to P500 a day. This is not enough for his family of 9. Benjamin has a monthly house rent to pay costing P10,000 (Inclusive of water and electricity). Citing the war abroad and its effects on the economy and increasing prices of basic goods like oil and gas, he said that their struggles continue. After all, they barely have a choice. Quite pessimistic about the near future, Benjamin sees no chance for them in the transportation sector to recover and break free from the boulders of problems, which they still carry on their shoulders up to this day.
Surviving their circumstances
Because of these changes, and the lack of other choices, Benjamin had to stop working daily as a PUV driver. He cannot afford to lose more due to the increasing price of diesel. However, he knows that he cannot permanently stop working because he still has a responsibility to his family. This is why he made himself available as an on-call service driver. Fortunately for Benjamin, he is now employed by a director of a university.
According to him, personal arrangements are more ideal as it guarantees him earning every time, far from being a PUV driver whose income is dictated by the number of working hours, amount of passengers, and oil price.
Amid the pandemic, PUV drivers received emergency subsidies through the government’s Social Amelioration Program. While thankful, Benjamin cannot deny the fact that it was not enough because it only lasted his family days. The unsustainable nature of his work also means financial insecurity for his family.
This isn’t just a story exclusive to the transportation sector. Many Filipinos started and felt the need to enter multiple jobs (like being a food delivery rider alongside their work as PUV drivers) just to take home extra income and provide for their households. While government subsidies may help the transport sector to continue, jeepney drivers say it’s not sustainable.
“Ayuda, suporta. Lahat ito ay problema,” said Benjamin when asked about his message to the newly-elected administration and Filipinos. He also believes that what the country needs is a long-term solution that could address the transport sector’s circumstances, not a band-aid one like a minimum fare hike.
Pending Jeepney Modernization
One of the accredited transport cooperatives group of Los Baños known as the Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Drivers at Operators ng Los Baños (SNODLOB), established in 2006, shared what they look forward to seeing in the transportation sector in Laguna before this year ends.
The drivers do not only face the changes caused by the limitations brought by the pandemic, but also the need to adapt to new technologies. For instance, the jeepney modernization program of the government has made PUV drivers skeptical and worried about what their lives will be like in the future.
This was answered by UPLB when it held the soft launch of the first batch of e-jeepneys dubbed “eLBeep” in January. According to Danilo Lescano, SNODLOB president, the acquisition of the first units of e-jeepneys is a way to respond to the direction of the university towards a more eco-friendly and sustainable community. He adds that this is also their contribution to the future-proofing of UPLB. (READ: https://publicservice.up.edu.ph/los-banos-rolls-out-e-jeepneys/).
Aside from being eco-friendly, the shift to e-jeep is a way to elevate the quality of life of local PUV drivers, which he said, has stayed the same and never improved for the past decades. The opportunity, he said, is an opportunity to secure drivers with the right and just income, benefits, and assistance that will come from the shares they earn as a cooperative. So they don’t need to worry about the expenses that come with driving jeepneys they do not own, he said.
The reality, however, is that not all jeepney drivers can afford to purchase a unit and there is still a limited number of units available. Acknowledging this, SNODLOB still calls for a gradual transition to e-jeeps and for the government to provide a sustainable solution that targets the root causes of the problems of the jeepney drivers.
Arman Portugal, one of the Board of Directors of SNODLOB, along with Norlito Lan, one of his colleagues, shared some of their thoughts in an interview they had with Bantay Halalan Laguna 2022 last April. (WATCH: https://fb.watch/dge_H–_eg/)
Not in favor of fare hikes, they said that it will still impose a burden as it would affect every Filipino. Instead, they suggested that it would be better for the country’s transportation agency to enforce an oil price cap to help them recover.
Lan reiterated that they hope for the government not to leave the ordinary people to shoulder all the problems brought about by band-aid solutions. Instead, he is seeking support and assistance to help businesses and workers like them who are struggling to make ends meet.
The story of Benjamin is just one of the hundreds of drivers in Los Baños, and the tens of thousands from all around the country who hope that their service to the ordinary Filipino commuter will be one day appreciated and well-compensated.
Even before the pandemic, PUV drivers and transport groups have been demanding pro-transport policies from the government. With the incoming administration, they could only hope for the best.
This story is a part of the 2022 Post-Election Series created and produced by LB Times.