This story was taken from Bulatlat, the Philippines's alternative weekly newsmagazine (,,
Vol. V, No. 11, April 24-30, 2005


Drivers’ Income Nosedives as Oil Price Soars
Diesel prices up by P21.50/liter since deregulation

How much does a jeepney driver, the Philippines’ “king of the road” so to speak, spend to earn his living for a day? Bulatlat interviewed jeepney drivers-transport leaders to find out.


How much does a jeepney driver, the Philippines’ “king of the road” so to speak, spend these days to earn his living for a day? Modesto Floranda knows this too well, being himself a jeepney driver.

Floranda, who is also the vice president for the National Capital Region (NCR) of the Pinag-isang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (Piston or United Nationwide Association of Drivers and Operators), talked to Bulatlat April 18 at the Welcome Rotonda, the boundary between Manila and Quezon City, in the heat of the nationwide transport strike held that day.

Piston, together with the Federation of Jeepney Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines (Fejodap), the Philippine Confederation of Drivers and Operators-Alliance of Concerned Transport Organizations (PCDO-ACTO), the Alliance of Transport Operators and Drivers of the Philippines (Altodap), and the Integrated Metro Bus Operators Associations (IMBOA), staged the transport strike to protest the latest series of oil price hikes.

Petroleum prices have risen more than five times since January alone.

Welcome Rotonda was one of the mass-up points and Floranda answered Bulatlat’s questions amid the blaring of the megaphone and the honking of horns by motorists supporting the strike. Along Espańa Street in Manila and Quezon Avenue in Quezon City, which both adjoin the Welcome Rotonda, it was like midnight though the sun was up and piercingly hot – as it was hard to find a jeepney.

Diesel, currently priced at P26.50 ($0.49 based on a $1:P54.31 exchange rate), is what jeepney drivers use to fuel their vehicles. (Jeepney is the Filipino’s ingenuous improvisation of the World War II-vintage GI jeep. The modern jeepney seats about 20 passengers.)

Floranda says that everyday jeepney drivers consume about 30 liters of diesel. This is the same figure given by Piston chairman Mar Garvida in a March 2004 interview with Bulatlat.

At P26.50/liter 30 liters cost P795 ($14.64). With the minimum fare presently pegged at P5.50 ($0.11), a jeepney driver has to take in 145 passengers a day just to recover diesel costs.

Interviewed by Bulatlat last year, Garvida said that a driver takes in an average of 300 passengers a day in order to earn, i.e., minus the fuel costs. That figure has not changed, said Floranda.

At the present minimum fare rate, a driver earns a gross income of P1,650 ($30.38) a day. Less the P795 spent for diesel and the P750 boundary fee, the driver is left with P105 in net income.

March 2004

The situation was somewhat different when Bulatlat interviewed Garvida in March 2004.

A driver then had to shell out some P540 ($9.62 based on the then $1:P56.10 average exchange rate) a day for diesel and P500 (then $8.91) as his boundary fee. With the minimum fare then pegged at P4 (then $0.0071), a driver earned a gross income of P1,200 (then $21.39). Minus P1,040 (then $18.54) for diesel and the boundary fee, driver took home a net income of P160 (then $2.85).

Note that the boundary fee is also higher today than it was in March 2004.

“When petroleum prices rise, the prices of jeepney parts also rise,” Floranda said. “Operators tell us that when petroleum prices rise, they also have to raise boundary fees. Every hike in boundary fees eats into the drivers’ earnings.”

As the figures stand, a jeepney driver looks just slightly less lucky today than he was in March 2004. But taking into account the increases in the daily cost of living for a family of six – the average Filipino family – will immediately dispel such impression.

As of December 2003, the national average daily cost of living for a family of six was P455.94 ($8.41 based on the year’s average exchange rate of $1:P54.20). This figure was used as the yardstick for drivers’ earnings vis-a-vis the cost of living in March 2004. As of December 2004, the national average daily cost of living for a family of the same size had shot up to P492.19 ($9.06 based on a $1:P54.31 exchange rate).

Whereas in March 2004 a jeepney driver’s net earnings were P295.94 below the period’s national average daily cost of living for a family of six, today they are P389.19 below the national average daily cost of living for a family of the same size.

So a jeepney driver these days, after spending some 12-14 hours (by Floranda’s estimates) – or from hours before sunrise to hours after sunset – on the streets which are mostly full of potholes, and over which polluted air hangs, he gets to take home a net income that is P389.19 below what he needs if he has to support himself and five other relatives. This, at the end of a day in which he often just barely takes his meals so he could be on the streets longer and make more trips and thus a little more money – that is, if there is still such a thing these days considering the continuing depreciation of the peso.

This does not yet include the instances in which he has to shell out extra money because he in his stressed-out condition made the mistake of parking where he shouldn’t park (which is known to vary from time to time depending on traffic enforcers’ whims), and some policeman thinking of having a good time “pounced” on him and asked him for tong (loosely, bribe money) just so he wouldn’t be issued a traffic violation ticket.

Before deregulation

“Drivers were way better off before the oil industry was deregulated,” said Floranda. The downstream oil industry was deregulated in 1996 to promote competition and thus pave the way for “fair” oil prices, according to an article on the website of the Department of Energy (DoE).

Sarbing Repaso, another Piston member, recalled in a phone interview with Bulatlat that in 1996, just before the passage of the Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Act, diesel cost only P5.50 (then $0.21) a liter. At the end of each day’s work, a driver paid P400 (then $15.38) as boundary fee.

Taking in an average of 300 passengers a day at that year’s minimum fare of P2.50 (then $0.096), the driver was earning a gross income of P750 (then $28.86) daily. Taking from that the P165 (then $6.35) spent on diesel daily (P5.50/liter of diesel multiplied by 30 liters a day), as well as the P400 boundary fee, a driver was left with P185 (then $10.58) a day. This was P128.38 below the then national average daily cost of living of P313.38 (then $12.05).

“That was why during that time, whenever drivers counted their money, they were a bit flashy,” Floranda recounted with a smile. “But now they could no longer be flashy because their pockets have nothing left to flash.”

Indeed, this writer can recall various instances when he, as a college junior just a few months before oil deregulation, had talked with jeepney drivers who thought themselves more fortunate than the factory workers who then earned P165 (then $6.35) a day.

Those days are far behind. Today the jeepney driver is far less lucky than the factory worker – who, with the cost of living relentlessly rising and his wages staying where they are, is also getting more and more unlucky.

Comparative oil prices

Meanwhile, in an April 17 column for the tabloid Bulgar, Presidential Management Staff chief Rigoberto Tiglao castigated drivers for not conserving fuel.

“Many drivers leave their engines to belch smoke,” Tiglao wrote. “That way, they burn more than half of their fuel.”

Asked to comment on this, Floranda said: “I pity those who think like that. What kind of driver wants to suffer? What kind of driver is he who doesn’t want to earn? But the problem is, the high prices of petroleum products combined with the taxes on these cause the dwindling of drivers’ earnings.”

In the same column, Tiglao also wrote that: “In fact, oil prices in the Philippines are not as high as in other countries.” He cited the following examples:


Unleaded Gasoline



(price per liter in pesos)

Hong Kong



South Korea






New Zealand






USA (California)









“Those figures are correct,” Floranda said. “But what he fails to take into account are the differences in the standards of living among the countries he mentioned. Among those countries, the Philippines has the lowest income.” Bulatlat

 © 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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