Jeepney drivers work long days and endure a lot of difficulties in their struggle to eke out a daily living. At the end of the day, however, their earnings are far from enough to afford basic necessities.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Ang buhay ay pamamasada
Usok at init ng makina
At pag kulang pa ang kita
Kailangan pang umarangkada
Ganyan ang buhay-jeepney driver
Sa buong araw na kayod
Mga tuhod ay nanlalambot
‘Yan ang buhay-jeepney driver
Sa buong araw na pasada
“Jingle” lang ang pahinga
‘Yan ang buhay-jeepney driver
Pag may konti nang kita
Pwede nang pumarada
– Noel Cabangon, “Jeepney Driver”
These lines definitely apply to the case of Mang Vito Pulmon, who plies the route from Project 3 in Quezon City to Quirino Avenue in Manila and back.
A typical day for Mang Vito begins at around 6 a.m., when he does his first round trip along his route. He has to complete five such round trips everyday to be able to take home some money for his family.
This routine of his has not changed for the last few years, despite the recent rollbacks in prices of petroleum products.
Diesel prices last month came close to P55 ($1.23 at the August 2008 average exchange rate of $1:P44.88) as a result of a series of oil price hikes starting last January.
Oil firms have claimed that the frequent spikes in the prices of their products are offshoots of their supposed need to recover losses from the jumps in world oil prices. World crude prices increased at a seemingly uncontrollable pace with projections that it would hit $200 per barrel. But these peaked at $147 per barrel before going down steadily. Mainstream analysts claimed that diminishing oil reserves, weather disturbances, and geopolitical factors such as the impending war between the US and Iran caused prices to rise; although some attribute it to a speculation frenzy in the oil futures market, especially after the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US when hedge fund managers lost millions of dollars.
In the Philippines, oil companies have implemented a total of seven rollbacks since last August. These rollbacks have brought down prices by P8.50 a liter for gasoline and P6.50 for diesel.
World crude prices in the oil futures market first hit the $100/barrel mark in January this year, while its spot price was around $92.93. The local pump price of unleaded gasoline in January was at P44.45 per liter and diesel at P38.45. World crude prices in the futures market hit $103/barrel in February and $110/barrel in March, with spot prices reaching $93.51 in February and $99.32 in March. Local pump prices in February and March ranged from P43.96 to P46.46 for unleaded gasoline and from P36.94 to P39.44 for diesel.
Brent crude oil for October delivery last traded at $99.43 and light, sweet crude at New York Mercantile Exchange at $101.74. Spot prices range between $93.06, for oil from the Urals, to $104.04 for Louisiana sweet oil. Local pump prices now range from P51.25-52.85/liter for unleaded gasoline, and P48.95-51.09/liter for diesel.
The current range of pump prices for unleaded gasoline and diesel is visibly still above the monthly averages for the period January-March 2008, bolstering the claims of drivers and militant organizations that the current oil price rollbacks are not enough.
“Hindi nararamdaman ng drayber y’ong rollback. Dapat, mas malaki ang ibaba ng presyo ng langis. Ang mahal-mahal ng langis, sa gasolinahan lang napupunta y’ong kita namin” (Drivers cannot feel the supposed benefits from the rollbacks. Oil prices should be reduced more. Petroleum products are so expensive that our earnings mostly go to the gasoline stations), Mang Vito said.
Sweating it out
I accompanied him one day last week for a few round trips along his route and got first-hand insight into what Mang Vito and other jeepney drivers have to go through everyday to eke out a living.
A trip from Project 3 to Quirino Avenue takes between 2 ½ to three hours on days when traffic is moderate. When traffic is heavy, Mang Vito said, it could take up to four hours.
It was very humid when we went on that trip, like it was going to rain anytime. But it did not rain. The weather was like that throughout the day.
On days like that it is an ordeal to be stuck in considerably heavy traffic, like what happened to us several times on E. Rodriguez Avenue in Quezon City, as well as on Espana Street in Manila which seem to be perennial traffic hotspots. As Mang Vito himself describes it, “masakit y’ong init” (the heat hurts).
The prolonged exposure to the sun’s heat comes on top of having to endure the high temperatures from the jeepney’s engine.
On rainy days, Mang Vito says, at least you don’t have to endure the excruciating heat. But a different problem arises. “Pag bumaha, hindi ka na makabiyahe” (When it floods, you can go on with your trip anymore), he says. And there are many flood-prone areas along his route.
There are many other things that a jeepney driver has to endure. Often he has to endure the grumbling of his stomach because he has to postpone his meals and his snacks until he completes a round trip along his route (it was over two hours past normal lunchtime, for instance, when we were able to have our lunch). With that also comes the fact that he often has to postpone relieving himself, sometimes by one hour or more: for some drivers, the alternative would be to stop somewhere along the route and relieve themselves on their vehicles’ wheels. Apart from that, drivers who ply Metro Manila routes have to deal daily with the dust and smoke that famously loom over the streets of the metropolis.
It would be late evening by the time Mang Vito completes his fourth round trip. By that time, he would have enough only to pay his boundary fee and make a return on what he spent throughout the day for diesel (he spends some P300 on diesel for every round trip). He has to make another round trip so he could earn a little money to take home to his wife and child.
At the end of the arduous day – which, for Mang Vito, lasts up to 12 midnight or thereabouts – he gets to take home approximately P300 ($6.44 at the exchange rate of $1=P46.555). That is less than what minimum wage earners make in just eight hours of work. (Bulatlat.com)