More than a year after the Philippine government first imposed strict lockdown to “contain” COVID-19 transmission, more and more jeepney drivers still plea for financial aid as most of them have yet to recover from the hunger and poverty brought by the government’s COVID-19 response.
By REIN TARINAY
MANILA — His jeepney and a long list of debts.
These are what is left of 42-year-old Ramil Ramos, a jeepney driver and spokesperson of North Operators and Drivers Association (NODA), a year into lockdown.
“It is hard to think about how deeply buried I am in debts. This jeepney is all I have left and I do not want to sell it. It is my only source of livelihood. Just like the rest of the jeepney drivers here, we are thinking of where to get income with the lockdown in place,” he told Bulatlat.
The Philippine government’s inefficient response to the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the lives of many jeepney drivers – many of them long facing threats of losing their source of livelihood over the proposed modernization of the jeepney industry before the pandemic broke.
Even with the cash aid provided to affected jeepney drivers last year, Ramos’s family had to scrimp as it was not enough to sustain their family’s needs for a week. It did not help that he is sending his two children to school, without a penny to spare.
“I have two children who are in tenth and eighth grade. They are at home because they know how difficult the situation is. If they need money, they know I have none and they understand it. Our priority now is that we get to eat on time and just get by,” he said.
Before the pandemic, Ramil earned $17 to $19 a day. But this has been reduced significantly due to the lower number of passengers they can take to abide by the minimum health protocols. Ramil said he makes sure he at least have $1.24 a day to feed a family of four.
Making do with what they have, Ramil would spend his $1.24 daily budget to buy half a kilo of rice.
“We do not know what is in store for us. COVID is not our sole enemy because the government is killing us too,” he said.
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In a recent press conference, the spokesperson of UP Transport Group Nolan Grulla said that the government’s jeepney modernization project remains a threat to jeepney drivers.
“We will not give up on our livelihood,” he said.