My journey as a Jeepney operator’s wife

October 8, 2019

by Gie Flores

The year 1993 was the beginning of my journey as a jeepney operator’s wife. Two years before that, I got married to a First Quarter Storm (FQS) student activist.  In his forties, he was torn between leading a “normal life” (to marry and have kids) after being incarcerated in Bicutan for a year (he was arrested for “vandalizing” a wall in his university), or continuing his involvement in the movement. He chose the first.

We had been married for a year and raising Sidhaya, our eldest, when my mother-in-law decided to buy a locally-assembled jeepney to augment our family income. The jeep was a stainless steel nine-seater with the name of my daughter on the front dashboard. The jeep was a pretty sight to see plying the route of Quezon Memorial Circle (QMC)-Arayat. It fetched me and my daughter to and from my place of work and the day care center where my daughter was enrolled. It has served us in many ways.

My husband, though, was clueless on how to manage a driver and a public utility vehicle. He hired a driver because he was disqualified to drive due to his color blindness. He cannot distinguish red from blue, which are the primary traffic light colors worldwide. It would be a disaster if my husband drove. He hired an agent that took care of all legal requirements needed. But when the agent breathed her last in 2018, and with the new implementing guidelines requiring operators to renew their franchise, we were compelled to process the legal papers to declare my husband as the public utility vehicle owner. Meaning, we had to file a Certificate of Registration (COR) with the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), and my husband had to keep two books of account to record expenses and income. My husband became an employer. For sure, I would be the one doing the rigorous writing, recording and reporting. I had no choice.

The boundary back in 1993 was Php650 a day with a Php2-3 minimum fare. It was a little bit higher because the unit was new. The driver paid for the diesel fuel while repairs and maintenance were shouldered by the operator. The coding system did not exist back then so a jeepney driver could drive 24/7.

As the years passed we had two more kids and we were still stuck with our good old jeepney. Scarred, damaged, but still roaring on the road. The continuous increase in the cost of diesel fuel, repairs, and maintenance deterred my husband from acquiring another unit. He could barely make ends meet when the jeep needed to be repaired. He had no choice but to replace busted spare parts to ensure that the jeep will run the next day. In the end, he was left with only centavos in his pocket.

The Jeepney Modernization Plan of the Duterte government further put my husband’s main source of income on the brink of extinction. If it pushes through, my husband has no recourse but to sell his unit. Of course, he cannot afford to buy a Php1.6-million electric jeep and pay an Php800 per day amortization. This government has no plan to support the small operators that can only afford a single unit. This government wants to corporatize the transport industry and profit from it in partnership with big businesses and foreign investors.

Life is hard for small operators like my husband. At present, the boundary has been reduced to a mere Php530 a day. With more repair days than trip days and a meager income that cannot even put food on the table for a family of five. Lucky for us that we have a support system.

As a wife of an operator, I have learned the ropes of his trade. Continue to witness the ups and downs of having a utility jeep. Learned the lingo of a jeepney operator in a struggle to keep his prized vehicle on the road. Given my two-centavos worth of advice to keep his spirit up and doing it again day in and day out.  Sometimes he listens, sometimes he does not. 

Our mass transport is in crisis. But who isn’t?