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Gulong ng buhay: A Sampaloc driver’s tale of woe

Almost 70,000 PUJ drivers from the Metro lost their source of income in a snap because of the coronavirus outbreak.This included Victor, 57, a driver from the Baclaran-Dapitan route.

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Photo by Vince Imperio/TomasinoWeb

Sampaloc, Manila was once filled with honking jeepney drivers, but it became a ghost town when President Rodrigo Duterte placed the whole National Capital Region in enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) last March 2020.

People were barred from leaving their homes including public utility jeepney (PUJ) drivers whose source of income solely relied on driving around the vicinity.

Almost 70,000 PUJ drivers from the Metro lost their source of income in a snap because of the coronavirus outbreak. This included Victor, 57, a driver from the Baclaran-Dapitan route.

For him, the lockdown meant “no profit” because almost everyone was not allowed to go out. 

Being a jeepney driver since 1991, he was able to send his two children to school. One is now a nurse at a hospital in Quezon City, while the other works as a domestic helper in the Middle East. 

They helped him to get by during the lockdown.

“Malaking bagay na may anak kang nakatapos, may nakakatulong ka sa panggastos. Hindi katulad sa iba na walang anak na nakatapos, iyon talaga ang pinaka mahirap sa lahat,” he said.

While he was fortunate, some had it worse. Many PUJ drivers resorted to begging on the streets—the same streets where they used to drive their jeeps.

Carrying plastic containers and cardboard signs around their necks, drivers begged for alms just to make ends meet.

Victor recalled that some of his colleagues used their jeeps as their homes because they did not have enough money to pay rent. 

“Tuwing gabi, makikita mo dito [at Laong Laan terminal], ang dami. Tulog na mga driver kasama iyong mga pamilya nila, iyong mga anak ang liliit pa,” he said.

The lockdown, which was supposed to last only a month, was extended and extended until drivers began to lose hope of plying on their routes again.

Ayuda controversy

During ECQ, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulation Board (LTFRB) promised to give out cash assistance to the affected transport workers but some claimed that they did not receive anything.

According to Victor, the only subsidy that he received was from the Manila Local Government Unit (LGU). 

“Eight thousand ang binigay ng barangay namin. Pero sa LTFRB, wala talaga,” he said.

This was echoed by his co-jeepney driver, Ramon: “Kahit nga bigas, wala kaming natanggap mula sa kanila.” 

Aside from the local government aid, the drivers from the Baclaran-Dapitan route also looked forward to food assistance from some non-governmental organizations. 

But they said that such assistance did not always reach them because the jeep associations in their area were “barring” it.

“Yung mga pinapamigay nila, mas malaki pa iyong naiuuwi nila,” Ramon said. 

“Sila-sila lang din kumikita diyan. Tuwing may nagpapadala, masuwerte na kung maabutan kami ng isang kilong bigas,” he added.

The lockdown was already hard for the drivers, but it grew worse because of associations taking advantage of the already poor situation. 

Ang dami ng naging asosasyon dito, pero walang nag tuloy-tuloy… lagi kasing ganyan,” said by Ramon, a driver for 42 years.

Kaya nga lagi akong nagdarasal noon na makapasada na ulit. Pinapatay lang kami ng mga asosasyon dito eh,” he added.

Killing the traditional

When Metro Manila shifted to General Community Quarantine in June 2020, Victor and Ramon regained hope that they could ply on their route again. 

But their spirits fell short when former spokesperson Harry Roque said that allowing traditional jeep drivers on the road again was “out of question.”

Only modernized jeeps were allowed to resume operations while its older counterparts were still barred from the road. It was a way to push for their phaseout, traditional drivers said.

“Pero walang problema sa amin ang phaseout, basta iyong ipapalit nila ay yung medyo mura-mura naman,” Ramon clarified.

Even before the pandemic started, talks of modernizing jeeps had already been proposed. The Department of Transportation said that it will “improve and strengthen the public transport sector.”

But a modern jeep costs around P2 million, which is a huge amount for drivers who did not have any income for the last few months.

“Nag rally nga kami eh kasi siyempre, hindi kami payag na sila lang ang makakapasada,” Victor said.

Fortunately, the woes of traditional jeepney drivers from Manila had been heard. Before 2020 ended, 70% of traditional jeepneys in the capital were allowed to return to the road.

Stricter protocols

Victor and Ramon were among the first few drivers who got back on their route, but they said that it was not that easy.

“Kailangan ng mga plastic. Hindi pa nga nakakapasada, napagastos na agad,” Victor said, talking about the “ineffective” mandatory plastic barriers.

Before they could return to normal operations, drivers were required to install plastic barriers to ensure physical distance among passengers. 

“Sabi nila para daw ‘di magka-COVID, eh ang dami pa din namang may COVID!” Victor said.

A one seat apart policy was also implemented, reducing the passenger’s load to half of the vehicle’s capacity. 

Although they incurred some losses, the drivers said it was better than having no profit at all. Their P1,000 average daily profit before the pandemic became a challenge to earn within a week during the lockdown. 

They were already lucky if they could earn P200 to P300 each day, Victor recalled.

“Wala ka talagang maitatabi, tamang-tama lang pang kain,” Ramon seconded.

Only a few drivers risked going back on operations because a more or less P300 daily profit was not enough, especially if you still do not own the jeep, they said.

Running in circles

Now that the government is easing the coronavirus restrictions, more jeepneys began plying their routes again. But the king of the road faces a new problem.

Although the Russian invasion of Ukraine is oceans away from the Philippines, drivers can still feel its effect while driving their jeepneys.

“Mas madami ngang sakay, sa krudo lang naman napupunta ang kita,” Victor said.

Drivers have been sighing deep in desperation as oil prices continued to increase each week. Although they are now earning P500 to P600 a day, it is still not enough.

“Talong-talo talaga. Kaya dapat makarami ng ikot at madaming maisakay,” said Ramon, who does five to six round trips everyday.

He also said some drivers started sleeping on their jeeps again while some, including him, skip a few meals—all because they want to save money.

“Sayang eh, pang gas na din iyon,” he added.

Although drivers feel burdened by the weekly oil price hike, they said an increase in fare should not be done.

“Hindi dapat taasan ‘yan, mahirap na ang buhay ngayon. Maganda talaga dyan ay rollback… krudo talaga ang kalaban,” Victor explained.

Dubai crude has breached the $80-mark this week and the Department of Energy says it may rise even more, as supply struggles to keep up with demand.

Now that oil prices are projected to reach P100 per liter, Sampaloc might become a ghost town again—but not because the government is imposing another lockdown. 

For the likes of Victor and Ramon, the wheels of their jeeps might be left unturned again. 

A series of misfortunes, one after the other.

Justine Xyrah Rennzel Garcia
Reports Writer | + posts

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Presidential elections and the Philippine stock market: An explainer

It is not a surprise for the Philippine stock market to move sideways after the partial and unofficial tally of the presidential election results shows Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. is leading over market-friendly Vice President Leni Robredo.

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Photos by Larizza Lucas/TomasinoWeb and Wance Paleri/Unsplash

The Philippines’ next president will have to deal with an embattled nation attempting to pull itself out of the pandemic and grave economic crisis.

It is bleeding red in the Philippines, as presidential aspirant Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos Jr. leads the unofficial tally day and the country’s stock exchange index dips to -2.90-percent weekly average as of Tuesday, May 17. 

However, this was not surprising according to top economists and market analysts. For a week now, the global trend is consistent with this drop due to the tightening of US federal monetary policy, among others.

Elections are considered to be one of the major market drivers and the stock market, an indicator of confidence in government. Market jitters during these times are pretty much normal, consistent with past Philippine elections

This year’s high-stake election is different. Usually, investors look at the economic policy directions of candidates, as well as their track record, to assess government competency and market outlook for the years to come.

High government confidence would mean businesses investing in one’s country, which decidedly increases local job opportunities. As of March 2022, the Philippine unemployment rate is at 8.8-percent or 2.875 million unemployed Filipinos.

Zooming out long-term, economic recovery especially at the tail-end of the global health crisis has been the key focus of the current administration, committing to at least bring back the country’s growth to pre-pandemic levels.

For Japan-based global investment firm Nomura Holdings, the lack of Marcos, Jr’s “concrete” economic policies may get foreign investors on the defense, cautious about the Philippine economic crisis that happened after his father bankrupted the Central Bank.

“Marcos Jr., in our view, will likely be regarded as less market-friendly than Robredo, particularly when it comes to experience at the national level and in articulating a strategy for the country to recover from the pandemic,” the January 2022 report said.

Using the five-point categorization, economists of Nomura Global Research assessed presidential candidates on continuity/good governance, infrastructure progress, fiscal discipline, national experience, and business friendliness. 

The Robredo-Pangilinan tandem scored highest with 26 out of 30, while Marcos and his teammate Sara Duterte tallied the lowest mark with 14 out of 30.

The study further added: “Political uncertainty will also likely grow, considering Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s large poll lead over VP Leni Robredo. This will likely weigh on local market sentiment and presents a challenging environment for the Philippines’ net portfolio investment flows.”

A separate report from Bloomberg showed investors favoring a Robredo presidency, with Marcos Jr. at the bottom of the survey along with Sen. Manny Pacquiao.

28 analysts and investors were asked to give ratings to the presidentiables from 1 to 5 who they think will be the best economic leader of the country. Robredo scored 106 while Marcos landed second to the last with 46.

As of press time, the unofficial and partial count of the elections shows the son and namesake of the late dictator Marcos Sr. leading the national polls at more than 58-percent of the total votes. Robredo is trailing behind at 28-percent.

Paolo Alejandrino
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‘Rags to riches’ narrative still sells to PH public — experts

“The masses respond to populist appeals, and the rags to riches story [is] contrary to being populist since populism places the candidate on equal footing with the voters,” political science professor Ronald Castillo said.

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Photo courtesy of Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP Getty Images and Isko Moreno's Official Facebook page

Swaying the people has been the usual feat during election campaigns.

Commonly seen in local telenovelas, the ‘rags to riches’ narrative is a happy-ever-after story that is often used to bolster someone’s image during the campaign season. It revolves around a person who rises from poverty to wealth or, in some cases, to instant fortune. 

Candidates, like Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso and boxer-senator Manny Pacquiao, have noticeably used this narrative in their recent interviews, engagements, and forums.

But Domagoso was more notable, often mentioning his younger days in the slums of Tondo, where he made a living as a garbage collector.

Phrases like “laki ako sa hirap,” “noong araw hindi ako nakapag-aral,” “dala ng kahirapan,” are commonly heard from him during his campaign.

In some instances, he tells specific details of his childhood anguishes when talking to a crowd.

“Nangarap din ako ng sariling mauuwian…magdildil man kami ng asin, at least yung bahay ay sa amin, ‘yon ang pangarap ko,” he said, recalling his harsh childhood at the turnover ceremony of Tondominium One, a vertical housing project of his administration. 

He continued: “Naging mabuti ang Diyos sakin, naging mabuti sakin ang mga tao sa lungsod ng Maynila. Bagama’t sa murang edad, binigyan niyo ako ng pagkakataong mag lingkod.”

The actor-turned-politician was compared to President Rodrigo Duterte due to their similar narratives and policies.

Domagoso often receives backlash on social media due to his narratives, where netizens clamored to him every time he spoke about being in poverty who rose to fame.

For some experts, this kind of narrative still pierces Filipino people, especially the lower economic class.

For Asst. Prof. Frederick Rey, it appeals to people’s emotions because it gives a  feeling of “being connected and identified with the candidate.”.

“This rendition creates an aura that the candidate is by no means different from the rest of the population,” Rey from the UST Department of Sociology said in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

He also warned that the appeal of this narrative to the people shows a “collective weakness”  due to “delayed political maturity” that could possibly be taken advantage of by politicians.

“Dapat ang voting behavior natin should be influenced by an ideology or plan of action by the candidate, hindi by emotional manipulation,” he said.

“We will keep on electing bad politicians and our people will keep on living in subhuman conditions,” he added.

Asst. Prof. Dennis Coronacion of the UST Department of Political Science also believes that the narrative is still effective, especially to classes D and E which are in the lower socioeconomic class.

“This narrative’s selling point is hope; that it’s still possible to escape from abject poverty through hard work and opportunities,” he said in a written interview.

But for political science professor Ronald Castillo, those who use the ‘rags to riches’ narrative during campaigns gamble on a 50/50 effectiveness, as it may not appeal to non-idealistic people experiencing poverty.

The masses respond to populist appeals, and the rags to riches story [is] contrary to being populist since populism places the candidate on equal footing with the voters,” he said. 

Scaling the cities?

Duterte and Domagoso also had another similar narrative: their city as a scale of “success.”

Both have been prominent mayors in their cities; Duterte sat on Davao City’s throne for almost his entire lifetime, and Domagoso defeated former President Joseph Estrada and retired police general Alfredo Lim — who had both served two consecutive terms as Manila mayor.

During Duterte’s campaign in 2016, he often promised to replicate his successes in Davao City to the country. 

Similarly, Domagoso had been fond of mentioning his city as a “model” of the country.

“What happened to Manila is scalable, so may prototype na with regard to housing, education, healthcare, and jobs,” Domagoso said in the recent Jessica Soho Presidential Interview on Jan 22.

Moreno and his party, Aksyon Demokratiko, took turns in praising his track record in the city of Manila, ranging from his construction projects to the city’s COVID-19 response. The party also emphasized that Domagoso will address poverty by “providing basic needs of the people.”  

For Coronacion, the people should first look at how the current administration failed to replicate Duterte’s  “achievements” in Davao City to the whole country. 

“The two places are different in so many respects. As someone who recognizes the nuances of local politics and governance, I usually disagree with our national politicians and bureaucrats’ claim that their success in one locality can be easily done in several other places in the country,” he said.

In 2019, the city government of Manila brushed and banned street vendors in Divisoria, causing many to lose their jobs and livelihood.

Rey also believes that this kind of narrative is an “oversimplification” that “exaggerates the proficiency of the candidate to reduce complex social problems into seemingly manageable phenomena.” He said that it ruins the essence of democracy since these are not all time-dependent on “grand and highly valued concepts but without facts, science, and concrete action plans.”

“This technique may be effective since it creates an image of a candidate having superhuman abilities in rendering solutions to difficult problems,” he warned.

The recent Pulse Asia presidential survey places Domagoso at the third place with Manny Pacquiao, garnering an eight percent voter preference.

Ian Patrick Laqui
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UST Journ profs express dismay over Marcos Jr.’s ‘biased’ remarks

“Mr. Marcos is running for the highest office in the land — he should expect to be vetted, examined, scrutinized, and challenged,” UST Journalism program coordinator Felipe Salvosa II said in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

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Photo courtesy of Sherwin Vardeleon and GMA News and Public Affairs

UST Journalism professors expressed their dismay over the statements of presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. that accused journalist Jessica Soho of being “biased.”

The presidential candidate declined the interview hosted by Soho on Jan. 22 due to her alleged bias against the Marcoses. This was in contrast to his speech during the filing of certificates of candidacy last Oct. 6 where he said he never took down interviews. 

UST Journalism program coordinator Felipe Salvosa II said that Marcos Jr. has the wrong idea about journalists’ role in a democratic society and in covering elections. He emphasized that, by challenging his views and narratives about his family legacy, journalists are just doing their jobs.

“Mr. Marcos is running for the highest office in the land — he should expect to be vetted, examined, scrutinized, and challenged,” Salvosa said in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

“His attitude toward journalists is also a measure of his fitness for public office,” he added.

Philippine Star reporter and journalism ethics professor Alexis Romero also said that the statement of the late dictator’s son is expected. He also reminded journalists not to be hindered by performing their roles during the elections.

“Politicians everywhere will try to discredit independent reporting because they prefer content that is favorable to them…These kinds of statements should not deter journalists from performing their roles during elections, which include informing the public about the dispositions, strengths, and weaknesses of candidates,” he said.

After declining the invitation to face Soho, Marcos Jr. started going on an interview spree this week.

Last Monday, the presidential aspirant agreed to an interview moderated by lawyer Trixie Angeles, a vocal supporter of him and President Rodrigo Duterte. Marcos Jr. also agreed to be interviewed by DZRH in their “Bakit Ikaw?” segment on Jan. 25. 

Echoing the sentiments of his co-faculty, Philippine Star deskman and journalism principles professor Leo Laparan said that all candidates should not be afraid to be interviewed if they are not hiding anything.

“Kung wala kang itinatago, bakit ka matatakot na harapin at sagutin ang mga tanong na deserve ng publiko na malaman ang sagot?” he added.

In relation to transparency, Marcos Jr. said that he will not disclose his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) if he wins this year’s national elections. 

“Depends on what the purposes are for making them public. If that purpose is going to be for political attack then why would we want to do that?” he said citing the impeachment of former Supreme Court Justice Renato Corona in an interview moderated by Angeles.

A few hours later, the late dictator’s namesake flip-flopped in an interview with OnePH, saying that he is “perfectly willing” to publicize his SALN.

“I’m perfectly willing to show my SALN. And in fact, the quotation that you made before was me talking about my own SALN,” he explained.

In the same interview, Marcos Jr. was asked regarding his definition of a biased person, to which he simply answered, “anti-Marcos.”

When asked to elaborate his reason, the presidential aspirant said, “I know… because of the treatment we received at her [Soho] hands.”

For Asst. Prof. Jeremaiah Opiniano, if candidates prefer to be interviewed by “friendlier journalists” just like what Marcos Jr. is doing, they are already “dabbling inside their echo chambers.”

Although not journalists, Marcos Jr. previously accepted interviews with actress Toni Gonzaga and talk-show host Boy Abunda. 

“Regardless of whatever is the way that electoral candidates handle journalistic interviews, we continue to persevere in seeing their thoughts on issues that matter—whether they agree to be interviewed or not,” Opiniano said in a written interview with TomasinoWeb.

READ  Demand justice for slain Cagayan priest despite impunity, Manila auxiliary bishop urges

“This approach is our way to project journalists as trustworthy actors. Journalists must continue to seek all sides of the story, and do the reporting carefully. Doing so means the journalist has done her/his job to the public, even to the ‘biased’ against the ‘biased.’” he added.

With the coming elections, the misinformation campaign to bolster the image of the Marcoses becomes more rampant in social media. False claims and conspiracies are utilized in the pro-Marcos propaganda in an attempt to revise history about the family’s atrocities.

As of writing, Marcos Jr. was included in the final ballot amidst four pending disqualification cases against him at the Commission on Elections.

Justine Xyrah Rennzel Garcia
Reports Writer | + posts
Ian Patrick Laqui
Reports Editor, Reports Writer | + posts

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