Richard Manuel is a jeepney driver who lives in the Manila North Cemetery and earns around PHP700 (US$13.47) daily. His livelihood is now threatened by the Philippine government’s plans to phase-out old jeepneys and replace them with newer models. The initiative is meant to provide public transportation that is safer for the passengers and the environment, but many jeepney drivers are against it because it would cost them a large amount to modernise their vehicles.
I live in the Manila North Cemetery where I am among the dead and surrounded by tombs, but we don’t really see any ghosts or otherworldly figures. As a matter of fact, I’m worried about something scarier: survival. You see, I’m a jeepney driver at a time when the Philippine government is planning to phase out the vehicle.
That makes me feel really sad, not only for me, but also for my fellow jeepney drivers. The jeepney symbolises the Philippines and as far as I know, the Philippines is the only country that has jeepneys as a means of public transportation.
How are we going to survive if they phase out the jeepney? How will we live? How will we put our kids to school? How will we earn money for our everyday food? Driving jeepneys is our only job. If we don’t have that, what will happen to us? It will be difficult for us if the jeepney disappears.
What’s wrong with driving jeepneys? We’re actually helping people; we bring our passengers to where they need to be. They’re only phasing out the jeepneys to make money, but what about us, the poor? Where are we going to get the money we need to buy food?
The jeepney phase-out will be costly for us. The government will ask us to pay for new electric jeepneys which will entail hundreds of thousands in downpayment. We will then need to pay them monthly until we cover the cost of the vehicle which is at least PHP1,000,000 (US$19,243.69). Where can we get that one million? We can’t get that from anywhere. We are not rich; we’re just poor drivers. Most of us are not even educated.
Sometimes, I earn less than PHP200 (US$3.85) for one round of driving. I also need to cover the cost of diesel, which is so expensive. They say that when you’re a jeepney driver, you’ll only ever earn spare change; that you’ll never get rich.
That’s how hard it is. When you hold the steering wheel, you don’t know how much you’ll earn. Sometimes you’ll get into an accident or get a flat tire, which is the most difficult thing for a jeepney driver because you have to return the fare to your passengers.
It’s hard to earn money but, of course, we need to work hard for our families because we draw our happiness from them.
For now, I just continue to drive, trying to go through life, through traffic, through the different kinds of people I meet every day.