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Conversations with the ‘worst people’ of Metro Manila (Taxi drivers.)

DLS Pineda (The Philippine Star) - December 11, 2015 - 9:00am

I can count on one hand the number of times I rode a taxi during my stay in college. If I wasn’t driving, then I would take a bus or a jeepney to school. Because I had other plans for my allowance, taxis were no-no’s. They were infinitely costlier than the two jeepney rides home. Besides, I had been riding jeepneys since grade school, and I was at home with its long linoleum benches, its deafening speakers, its multicolored lights, and its multicolored passengers.

 But having a job changed all that. It afforded me the luxury of taxi rides. By introducing me to the mind-racking idea of “disposable income” — and making me realize the hard way that time costs money — work forced me into a paradigm shift. Cabs erased the need to look and pay for parking (and gas). Sometimes, the office even reimbursed for taxi rides. And with the metro’s pollution and ineffable traffic, comfortable seating and functioning air-conditioning systems became needs for yuppies like me. Once upon a time, taxis satisfactorily answered all those requirements and more.

Enter Uber, GrabTaxi, other online car rental platforms and social media, and suddenly, taxis began to be perceived as the enemy — the evil status quo. These days, taxis suffer the same amount of flak online as the MRT. They probably suffer even more, with accounts of theft and other monstrosities rabidly circulated online.

“Wala rin naman kaming magagawa,” Mang Rodolfo, who was once driving his cab for me from Batasan to Krus na Ligas, said. “Hindi na kami sumasawsaw riyan. Basta sa akin, trabaho.”

Feelers of the world

Like many, I consider taxi drivers as my feelers in the world outside my own. Sometimes, I’m the one who starts the conversation. Oftentimes, they do. Locked inside a cab’s four doors, and stuck in Manila traffic on 12- or 24-hour shifts, who wouldn’t crave hearing another person’s voice? With the taxi business experiencing grave changes in the past year, I thought of asking how they themselves handled their own lives, instead of soliciting their views on politics.

Roger Ponsaran was once my taxi driver from the airport to our house in Quezon City. I took note of his name because he shares the same surname as my professor in college. “Taga-Antique din ba propesor mo? Marami nga sa angkan naming nag-UP,” he said to me. “Marami sa kanila, ‘di na ako siguro kilala, pero mga pinsan ko ‘yun. Dalawa ‘ata sila o tatlo na nag-aral do’n.” I told him that I think my prof was from Cavite. But he insisted that he must’ve migrated from Antique — “konti lang naman Ponsaran sa Pilipinas.”

He told me that life had been kind to him, that he used to be a family driver for a family in Alabang, but when the husband cheated on the wife (“Ay, ang ganda ni Ma’am! Ewan ko ba kung bakit nagawang mangaliwa ni ser.”), they cut costs and he was tearfully laid off. He then shifted to driving school buses for children who were “headaches” and afterwards, decided to drive taxis for a huge company.

“Siguro, ‘di ka pa napanganak, namamasada na ‘ko. Pero kung malugi na taxi diyan sa Uber-Uber, edi hanap na lang uli ng trabaho.” Proudly, he said that he had raised his son, a security guard who foiled a robbery at the SM development near Boni station.

Tiburcio Gonato was once my taxi driver from Batasan Hills to Tektite in Ortigas. I used Waze to see if it was faster to take EDSA or C5. It said that we should pass through White Plains and make a U-turn under the Santolan flyover. “Alam mo, minsan, mali ‘yan, eh,” Mang Tiburcio told me. That was when he started to narrate how, once, his passenger wanted to go to “expo” from Ortigas. “Aling ‘expo’? ‘Yung sa Cubao — dalawa ‘yun — o sa Marikina o ‘yung sa East Avenue?” he asked his passenger. At the same time, he told the histories of each “expo” and why they were built.

“Tapos ‘yung sabi ng phone n’ya, dapat umakyat muna kami ng Ortigas Extension, sa may Greenhills, ‘saka lalabas uli ng EDSA. Sabi ko, mali ‘yun!” Tiburcio said. “Sa tinagal-tagal kong nagmamaneho, ngayon ko lang narinig na mas mabilis do’n. Eh Greenhills ‘yun at uwian na nung mga estudyante ro’n!” He said that after intensely arguing with the passenger on the way out of Ortigas, he got his way and they passed through EDSA. They got to Cubao in 10 minutes. After that, we talked about activists and his extensive knowledge of Vandolph’s car accidents.

Their fears

But while many dread taxis for fear of getting mugged or worse, there are taxi drivers who fear passengers might mug them or kill them. Once, from the airport to Batasan Hills, a young taxi driver drove for me. He kept muting his phone which buzzed with one GrabTaxi notification after another. He told me that once, he was almost held up by juveniles.

Pinipilit nilang dumaan akong Agham, eh gabi na no’n at alam kong maraming kalokohan do’n,” he told me. So, instead of following their instructions, he swiftly parked his cab at the taxi station under the Quezon Avenue-EDSA flyover, jumped out, and screamed for help. The taxi drivers standing by sprang into action and ran to his aid. Mercilessly, they beat the three juveniles who, they found out later, had guns and knives tucked in their pants. “Hinatawan ko nga ‘yung isa ng tire wrench ko, eh,” he added.

The taxi business in the Philippines is largely dependent on the efforts of the driver. Unlike in Japan or in Hong Kong where their cabs’ engines and bodies are standardized (owing to their respective automotive/surplus industries) and their operations are subsidized by government, our taxi business remains a barter system between driver and passenger. It is hard to make a generalization that all taxis are unsafe, or all taxis are safe, precisely because it is a business that runs on the idea of “every taxi driver for himself.” Driving a taxi is a wholly different art from working day to day in an office.

Whenever I am confronted with taxi horror stories, I remember Lando Abayo, the taxi driver who once brought me to the airport from our house. He asked me where I was flying to, and I said I was flying to Butuan, where I teach. He told me that if I ever have Joshua Abayo for my student, I should tell him that his father once drove for me. He said he hadn’t seen his son in years. Joshua was in Butuan, with his mother whom Lando had recently separated with. I realized I was a fool to think that taxis only brought me from point A to point B.

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Tweet the author @sarhentosilly.

 

ACIRC BATASAN HILLS BECAUSE I BUTUAN CUBAO DRIVER EAST AVENUE ENTER UBER GREENHILLS TAXI TAXIS
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