HomeNewsJeepney drivers, workers ‘more miserable under Marcos Jr’

Jeepney drivers, workers ‘more miserable under Marcos Jr’

By Janess Ann J. Ellao

It has been 17 years since Renz Bohol first held the jeepney’s steering wheel. He plies the Alabang-Greater Manila Area route every day. He brings home around PhP1,000 (roughly US$17) a day. But the only livelihood he knows is close to being taken away from him as the Philippine government implements its transport modernization program.

“I took a risk when I bought my first jeepney last year after working hard and saving money for the past 17 years. I remain hopeful that our struggle will succeed and this government will heed our calls,” Bohol, 33, told Bulatlat at the sideline of the May 1 Labor Day protest action in Manila.

Bohol joined thousands of workers and activists who demanded not only higher pay and safe working conditions but also putting a stop to changing the Philippine Constitution and asserting national sovereignty amid brewing tension in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippine government has fallen short of its annual target to generate 500,000 jobs, according to IBON Foundation. It said that employed persons increased only by 154,000, or about 48.8 million in February 2023 to 49.0 million in February 2024. IBON added that “ job creation is so weak that it is likely that the falling magnitude of unemployment is driven more by Filipinos that have stopped looking for work and are dropping out of the labor force because there are no jobs to be found.”

Labor day protesters gathered along España before marching to Morayta where a short program was held. They later held another protest action in front of the US embassy in Manila where six were arrested by the police.

Struggling drivers

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April 30 was the government deadline to consolidate all jeepney franchises. This has been met with strong opposition as it would affect both drivers and passengers.

Bohol’s father was also a fellow jeepney driver who raised and supported their family by plying the route of Alabang-Biñan every day. “He wanted to attend (the protest action) but we are worried that it might be too humid for him. He is already a senior citizen but he wants to express support.”

Bohol started to join protest actions in 2017 when he first heard of the government plans to phase out the jeepneys. He also joined protest actions against increasing oil prices and in calling for government support during the pandemic lockdown.

“It was these issues that enlightened me of the bigger fight,” he said.

When he braved the scorching heat to join the May Day rally, he held the banner opposing jeepney phaseout, following a recent government pronouncement that a 15-day “leeway” will be imposed after the April 30 deadline for “uncosolidated jeepneys.” They would later be fined and impounded as “colorum” vehicles after this.

In a statement, jeepney drivers and operators group Piston said that those who refuse to join the unjust public transport modernization program are being “designated as illegal, or colorum, by the very same government entrusted to safeguard the rights of the working class.”

Dire working conditions

IBON Foundation also noted an increase in the number of Filipinos who are living in “hand-to-mouth” conditions as prices of staple food and services increased.

The group cited Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) data which reveals that households without savings increased by 1.2 million, or 19.2 million from first quarter to fourth quarter of 2023.

“The Marcos Jr administration keeps touting that the labor market is improving. But there is a serious disconnect between this government hype and the actual reality of millions of Filipinos. Until now, Filipino workers have yet to see the gains from government’s “people-centered” policies and are still struggling with low-paying and precarious livelihoods,” the group said.

Meanwhile, the thinktank said that big companies have been profiting over increased worker productivity that grew by 88 percent when the average minimum wage fell by over 22 percent between 1989 and 2023, saying that, “employers have pocketed this growing productivity as profits for decades instead of giving workers the fair compensation that is due to them.”

The group said that workers rights must be upheld, not franchise consolidation. “We demand a pro-people, worker-led just transition built on the foundation of social justice and climate justice, not a haphazard ‘modernization’ program that disregards the needs and welfare of transport workers.”

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