On Labor Day, a jeepney driver revs up his resistance
MANILA, Philippines — At 74, Elmer Cordero stood defiantly before the US Embassy in Manila, his fist held high and his placard proudly displayed. He marched through the sweltering heat on Labor Day, united with his fellow citizens in their quest for meaningful transformation.
If given the choice, Cordero said he wouldn’t have joined the protest. The years have taken their toll on his face and body. “Kaya lang, siyempre kasama rin ako para magtagumpay din ang mga taong mahihirap [But of course, I chose to join so marginalized people will come out victorious],” he said.
Cordero was only one of more than 10,000 Filipinos that joined the May 1 mobilization in the nation’s capital.
All roads lead to Mendiola on Labor Day.Various labor organizations and progressive groups gather in Manila on Monday,…
On Monday, various labor groups and progressive organizations trooped to Mendiola to assert their demands for advancing workers’ welfare nationwide, including a legislated wage hike, better working conditions, and the end of contractualization.
The rally concluded at the US Embassy. The protesters sharply denounced the expansion of American military bases in the Philippines under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the two nations.
'U.S. TROOPS, OUT NOW!'Multi-sectoral groups go straight from Mendiola to the U.S. Embassy in Manila on Labor Day to…
The demonstration came on the onset of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s arrival in Washington D.C. to meet with his American counterpart, Joe Biden, during the former’s four-day official visit to Washington. Protesters heavily scored Marcos’ absence in the country on a day dedicated to foregrounding the struggles of the common Filipino laborer.
“Well, he’s kind of an absentee president. He spends a lot of time talking to heads of state abroad, but he spends so little time—almost no time at all—talking to ordinary Filipinos who are facing difficult situations,” said Bagong Alyansang Makabayan President Renato Reyes.
Cordero, too, lamented the chief executive’s decision. “Nandito kami sa Embassy upang ihiling ‘yung mga kahilingan namin, e wala naman pala siya. Nasa [US] siya,” he said.
Life has been challenging for Cordero, who has had his fair share of troubles. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Cordero, a jeepney driver by trade, serviced passengers almost daily and earned P800 per shift, P1500 if it was a good day.
With rising fuel costs and crippling inflation, he said he was lucky to take home P300. “Kapos na kapos talaga,” he said.
In June 2020, Cordero was one of six jeepney drivers detained for staging a rally to protest the loss of their livelihood following the jeepney ban during the lockdown in Metro Manila. Called the “Piston 6,” their arrest highlighted the desperation and difficulties faced by workers to make ends meet during the pandemic.
“Nanawagan kami ng balik pasada, dinala kami papuntang city hall para tulungan, ‘yun pala kinulong. Napakahirap ng kalagayan naming mga driver,” he said.
(We were calling to resume our operations, and we were brought to the city hall supposedly to help us, but instead, we were put in jail. The situation of our drivers is tough.)
If these problems weren’t enough, the threat of modernization has been looming over them for years. Various transport groups have long criticized the government’s public utility vehicle modernization program; their primary objection is that not all drivers and operators have the financial capacity to “modernize” their vehicles.
“Hindi kami tumututol diyan, ang problema, hindi kaya ng mga operator at driver. Magkano, 2 million yan. Samantalang meron naman tayo dito sa Pilipinas,” Cordero said.
(We are not against that. The problem is that operators and drivers can’t afford it. How much? That’s P2 million. When in fact, we have it here in the Philippines.)
Imported electric jeepneys cost P2.4 to P2.6 million each, which is too high for drivers and small operators. In contrast, a locally manufactured prototype that the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board has approved costs around P1.3 million to P1.5 million. The Department of Transportation has promised to prioritize local manufacturers in producing “modern” jeepneys.
With their calls still far from being met, Cordero has no choice but to continue. Today, he only goes on the road twice a week, and only if there’s an opportunity; he also does electrical repairs on the side to support their living costs. With only his wife helping their family get by another day, life has been proving burdensome.
“Sabi ng iba, lumago daw ang Pilipinas. [Ang] lumago, ‘yung mayayaman. ‘Yan ang problema naming mahihirap, naming manggagawa, wala nang inuuwi sa pamilya,” Cordero said.
(Others may say the Philippines grew. But actually, only the rich grew. That is the problem for us poor people, ordinary workers. We can no longer bring something home to our family.)
In his inaugural speech after winning the presidency in 2022, Marcos vowed to “build back better” by learning from the hardships that the country experienced in the past few years.
Cordero is hoping that the president will deliver on his promise.
“Ang panawagan namin kay Marcos, sana tignan ang kalagayan ng mahirap dito sa baba. Nauulanan, naiinitan, nanghihingi lang para maitaguyod ang mga pamilya nila,” he said.
(Our call to Marcos is to look into our plight in the marginalized sector. We endure the rain, and the heat, just asking for something small so our family can get by.)
Turning a year older on May 5, Cordero said he looks forward to better times. He longs for a future where he can return to being a jeepney driver and know that his income is enough to pay the bills and feed his family. But until a genuine change is realized, he will continue braving the streets to stand with and for the people.
“Dahil itong laban na ito ay para sa lahat, hindi lang naman para sa amin [This fight is for the sake of everyone, not just for us].”