Monday, October 26, 2020
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Hungry, homeless, jeepney drivers resort to begging


Forced off the road by coronavirus lockdowns, jeepney driver Daniel Flores now plies the streets of Manila on foot begging for money to feed his hungry family.

The 23-year-old has not picked up a passenger since March when public transport was halted.

Jeepneys — first made from leftover United States jeeps after World War 2 — are a national symbol in the Philippines and serve as the backbone of the country’s transport system, providing rides for millions of people across the country.


NO INCOME Jeepney drivers beg for help on a street in Manila. PHOTO BY RENE DILAN

But drivers like Flores, and millions of others, are out of work after the months-long restrictions crippled the economy, plunging it into recession.

With no income and debts piling up, Flores started living in the jeepney with his wife, two of his children and a fellow driver after they were evicted from their apartment because they could no longer pay the rent.

Flores has spent many days begging for alms just to get by.

Other drivers carry plastic containers and cardboard signs around their necks to catch the attention and sympathy of passing motorists.

“We have absolutely nothing left to spend,” Flores said as he sat inside his jeepney, parked in a street and crammed with cooking pots, clothes and other humble possessions.

A sign asking for help from passers-by sits on top of the vehicle, which his empathetic boss has loaned him.

Flattened cardboard boxes cover the side windows and rear entrance to give the family some privacy — and a feeling of protection from the virus they fear is lurking outside.

As the number of confirmed infections in the Philippines surges past 157,000 — the highest in Southeast Asia — and Manila endures another lockdown, Flores has no idea when he will be allowed to drive again.

He occasionally picks up odd jobs selling scrap metal, painting or welding. But it is not enough to feed his family.

“Often we will eat just once a day. Sometimes, if no one helps us, we don’t eat at all,” Flores said.

So dire is their predicament the couple sent their seven-month-old baby to live with relatives outside Manila to ease pressure on themselves and ensure the child gets enough food.

‘Growling stomachs’
Sesinando Bondoc, 73, started driving a jeepney when he was 28 and at his age finding another job seems impossible.

Standing on the side of a busy road in sweltering heat with other drivers asking for money, Bondoc said the desire to eat overrides his fear of the virus or speeding cars.

“One time we were almost hit by a car but we don’t really have a choice. We have to leave our homes and take our chances in the streets just to have something in our growling stomachs,” he added, his voice cracking as he fought back tears.

Drivers have received some money and food handouts from the government. But it does not make up for their lost income.

Renato Gandas, 57, who has been a driver for 30 years, said the owner of his vehicle had already sold a jeepney due to the jeepney modernization program that aims to phase out old units.

With his livelihood at risk, Gandas is losing hope.

“We might just beg for alms for the rest of our lives,” he said.


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