BY JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Vol. VIII, No. 15, May 18-24, 2008
Hurting from the continuous oil price hikes, militant labor leaders echoed their sentiments along the streets of Quezon City during the recent transport strike. All of them were clamoring for changes. All of them were fighting for a better life. As they cheered and chanted their demands, waved flags, raised their banners and burned an effigy, they resembled a picture of tired, tormented but hopeful souls resonating with the purpose of the struggle that united them.
Among the throng, a man with a thin, gloomy face, sun-burnt complexion and wiry built was noticeably observing the protest action from the window of his jeepney. He was wiping perspiration from his face with a towel. One of the participants in the rally asked him to give way to a van that was leaving. He skillfully maneuvered his jeepney without hesitation amid the traffic rushing through Quezon Avenue.
Alfredo Agustin, 54 years old, has been trying to eke out a living by driving a jeepney for almost 30 years now. He told Bulatlat that he started driving a jeepney right after graduating from high school. Agustin said that it was the only employment opportunity available for high school graduates like him.
He has experienced a lot of bad and good things during his long years of driving a jeepney. He has been robbed twice; he still remembers vividly the time he accidentally ran over a person. But it was also while driving his jeepney that he met his second wife who was his regular passenger. Now, they have three children and a number of grandchildren who are also living with them. Although, he sadly shared, he hasn’t seen his first born son ever since his first wife left him.
“Bina-budget na lang,” Agustin replied when asked how they are able to cope with the increases in oil and food prices. Agustin’s wife works as a dressmaker and is a minimum wage earner. “Pati naman na sila (anak) may trabaho pero kailangan pa rin kumayod dahil kulang pa din eh,” (My children are also employed but we all need to work hard because our income is still not enough) said Agustin. “Sa pagkain kasi pinakamalaki napupuntahan yung kinikita naming dahil madami kami. Sunod na yung mga bills sa ilaw at tubig.” (Most of our income goes to food expenses because we are many; then other necessities such as paying electric and water bills) Agustin added.
Worse off now
He recalled that 30 years ago, he used to pay only P150 ($20.32 at the December 1978 exchange rate of $1=P7.38) for his boundary – the amount the driver pays the owner of the jeepney- and the price of diesel was so cheap back then. Now he is paying as much as P700 ($16.35 at the current exchange rate of $1=P 42.80) for the boundary and oil prices have increased rapidly. “Kung ikukumpura eh talagang mas mahirap (kumita) ngayon,” (If I were to compare, it’s really harder to earn money nowadays) said Agustin. He added that he spends an average of P1000 ($23.36) for diesel for every work day (Drivers usually work on alternate days.). “Kaya yung nauuwi ko mga P300 hanggang P500 na lang,” (So I am only able to bring home around P300 to P500 or $7 to $11).
Agustin openly expressed his discontentment against the present administration. “Bakit naman dati kay Erap, hindi masyado nagtataas ng presyo ng gas?” (Why is it that during the Estrada administration, oil prices did not increase that much?) “Kung gusto niya (pababain ang presyo ng gas), magagawan ng paraan,” (If Arroyo really wants to lower the prices of oil, there is a way) added Agustin.
“Kung maaari lang, Gloria out na,” (If it’s only possible Gloria Arroyo should be ousted now) stressed Agustin.
He said that this has led him to join Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON or Unity of Associations of Drivers and Operators Nationwide) and now, he is participating in the transport strike against the continuous and rapid increases in oil prices.
Committed to the struggle for what is just
Agustin shared that the purpose of the transport strike is not just about increasing the income of drivers. “Gusto namin mapigil yun pagtaas (ng presyo),” (We want to put a stop to the continuous hikes in oil prices) said Agustin. If not, he said, prices of food and other basic commodities would no longer be affordable, threatening the survival of majority of Filipino families.
Agustin is totally committed to the struggle of drivers, in particular, and the Filipino people, in general. “Yung asawa ko nga nananahi at sumasali pa rin sa rally eh” (My wife works at a garments factory and she still joins rallies) he proudly said.
Agustin stressed that before, he used to complain about the pains in his body after a long day of driving the jeepney. Now, he feels that there are more important things to complain about. After struggling to survive by driving a jeepney for more than half his life, his body may have started to feel weary; but he still has fire in his eyes, which is characteristic of the youth, because he firmly believes that he is fighting for what is just.
“Hangga’t malakas pa ako,” (As long as I am still strong) Agustin declared. (Bulatlat.com)