Remaining PBA bubble bus drivers relish rare opportunity to ply trade amid trying times
Clockwise from top right: Bus drivers Manuelito Lino (TNT), Narciso Piloton (Phoenix), Henry Espiritu (Meralco) and Regiebert Vitto (Ginebra).
STAR/John Bryan Ulanday

Remaining PBA bubble bus drivers relish rare opportunity to ply trade amid trying times

John Bryan Ulanday (Philstar.com) - November 24, 2020 - 1:10pm

SMART CLARK GIGA CITY – And then there were four.

Yes, four teams remain in the PBA Bubble. Four team bus drivers are left, too.

Regiebert Vitto (Ginebra), Henry Espiritu (Meralco), Manuelito Lino (TNT Tropang Giga) and Narciso Piloton (Phoenix) are the last standing team bus drivers from Genesis Transport Service Inc., here almost two months into the bubble.

Much has been said about the bubble being a Colosseum for gladiators, where only the fittest and strongest survive. 

It is a marathon, they say — it’s all about who’s going to last.

But for the drivers here, it’s a safe haven.

“Malaking bagay po sa amin ito, malaking tulong sa aming mga pamilya,” said the Fuel Masters bus driver Pilot on, 56, whose wife suffered a stroke recently.

Piloton and the rest of the drivers Luzon-wide endured a seven-month struggle due to quarantine restrictions of the pandemic. In more than half a year, bus trips were prohibited in an all-out effort to contain the spread of the virus.

Without jobs, the fathers, as foundation of their families, had to find ways to hold the fort until they get back on track.

It was a steep climb. It was a bumpy journey.

The savings of Guiginto, Bulacan native Espiritu from decades of work took a blow. Lino along with his fresh graduate engineer son took electrical and carpentry jobs in Tarlac. Piloton had to find private driving sidelines and occasional shuttle trips in Metro Manila and Rizal while Vitto was forced to sell his tricycle in Orani, Bataan too make do with their daily living.

“Yung seven months na iyon, walang kita. Panay palabas. Sagad na talaga. Sobrang higpit na ng sinturon. Mahirap kasi bilang tatay tapos walang income,” said the 57-year-old Lino.

They were hopeless. There was no end in sight for the struggle.

Then, a call happened in September.

Lino, Espiritu, Piloton and Vitto were among the chosen 12 Genesis drivers for the two-month PBA Bubble in Clark, Pampanga.

It was their biggest phone call this year. It was the happiest, too, as the sacrifice and time away from their families hardly made a difference in their decision to give it a go.

There was no hesitation. It’s now or next year for them when buses regain go-signal to operate as the pandemic situation get better.

“Hindi na kami nagdalawang-isip. Kailangang kumapit na talaga. Kako nalang sa pamilya ko, mas matakot tayo kung magugutom tayong patay. Ang importante kumita. Sakripisyo talaga kasi magulang tayo. Malaking bagay itong bubble, kung wala ito, aabot pa ng siyam na buwan na gutom,” added Lino.

“Kung malayo lang din sa pamilya, sanay kami dahil kung umuwi kami ay buwanan. Sisiw na lang ito sa hanapbuhay namin. Sanay na rin. Ang importante, may trabaho,” shared the 47-year-old Espiritu.

With decades of driving experience in different provinces, they have seen it all.  

From the busy EDSA highway to flat and smooth North Luzon Expressway and to the mountains of Baguio with stops in Pampanga, Tarlac, Bataan, Pangasinan, La Union and Ilocos — they’ve been there and done that.

There was no difficult road or steep terrain for them to drive through. Not until the pandemic which may have been the darkest stretch of their driving career.

Being called up in the bubble served as a sunshine — literally and figuratively — after those months of uncertainty.

“Kung wala sigurong bubble, baka wala na po kaming ilaw ngayon at hindi ho nakakapag-aral ang mga anak ko,” said Ginebra driver Vitto, 40, after failing to pay a single electricity bill during the seven-month quarantine period.

“Masuwerte kami na kami ang napili. Lalong suwerte kung aabot hanggang dulo.”

For the first time in their lives, the four drivers are not in a race against time. Inside the bubble -— with their families away as inspiration in their hearts — they have unlimited fuel in the tank to last. 

Like the Gin Kings, Bolts, Tropang Giga and Fuel Masters, their respective drivers wish to be the last at the finish line — not only for the prestigious and unprecedented bubble Philippine Cup trophy — but for the simple income to bring home to their families in time for Christmas.

Plus a bonus, too, which is the unforgettable experience with their basketball idols.

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