Of strikes and stories in the streets
A nationwide transport strike has happened, and I cannot help but recall the jeepney driver I had the privilege of meeting a few weeks ago.
I clearly remember the beads of sweat on his temple, how he wiped them away with a white face towel and how, while doing this, his eyes were alternately fixed on the road and on the rearview mirror, shouting, “Saan ’tong bente?”
The traffic was terrible, and I was seated beside the driver, watching him and waiting for the right moment to ask if he owned the jeepney he was driving. “Boundary lang po,” he replied. I have spoken with a lot of jeepney drivers to know that most of them do not own the vehicle they’re driving. “Boundary” has become their jargon, like an endearment between them and their prized possession.
While counting coins with one hand and holding the steering wheel with the other, kuya driver willingly answered my questions — about his place of origin, how long he had been driving, and so on.
He is from Pangasinan, he told me, and has been a jeepney driver for decades, since the ’90s. He thought he would be done doing it after a while, but now he is certain he would still be a jeepney driver after a decade or two. The reason, he said, was that his son who recently graduated with an IT degree got his girlfriend pregnant. There was obvious disappointment and hurt in kuya’s voice. He had hopes, and he was tired.
Our conversation was long and deep. It opened my eyes to why the nationwide transport strike among drivers like kuya was necessary, completely right and understandable.
The first question we should be asking whenever we see people resisting a “development” project like the the PUV modernization is why. Why on earth would these people give up their daily work and wages for something exhausting like shouting in the streets, walking under the scorching heat of the sun and sacrificing their comfort? Well, because just like the jeepney driver I met, they have hopes and they are tired, and they have been wiping sweat off their beaten brows for ages.
These drivers have children to send to school and families to support. Their individual hopes and aspirations, and whatever sense of security they get from their jobs, are what we are putting aside whenever we advance notions of transport modernization without first advancing the drivers’ cause, or even asking them what they truly want.
I was reading this article on why jeepney drivers should support PUV modernization — good loan offers to upgrade their vehicle, monthly support, 5 percent for the bank, and so on. It’s easy to say the PUV modernization program is good — when you’re not the one having to pay a loan that was forced on you. A loan is a loan; somebody has to pay for it and, most certainly, someone will profit from it.
The transport strike is necessary. The inconvenience such activity causes is necessary. If paralyzing the streets for a day is the only way for ordinary workers such as drivers to be heard, then let it be. What is a day of strike compared to all the days that these hardworking but perennially hard-up people will have to pay for an imposed debt?
When I saw that I was about to reach my destination, I told kuya: “Salamat po kasi alam kong hindi mababayaran ng P15 na pamasahe ko ’yung kwento at paghatid niyo sakin nang walang galos.”
The next thing he did surprised me and moved me. He took P15 from a tiny box, handed it to me and told me: “Ma’am, huwag na po kayong magbayad. Salamat sa pakikinig.”
I did not accept it, of course, insisting that I should pay for my ride. But kuya gave me something money can never buy — a glimmer of hope. The hope that despite the uncaring nature of the state and the corporations that are pushing for the modernization drive that would likely wipe them off the streets, the drivers will survive, and remain a caring, valuable presence to passengers and fellow ordinary Filipinos they may never meet again.
I wonder what kuya shouted out during the strike. I hope he had his towel with him, and that the endurance, courage and grit within him would keep him going. I cannot wait for him to be heard. I hope they will listen. I hope we all listen.
* * *
Haydee Hernandez Ducay, 20, is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Baguio. She works as a media relations associate in a PR agency.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.