I volunteered to conduct a city-wide research on the socio-economic impacts of COVID 19 to the city of Tagbilaran. My team at Step Up Consulting just felt that if we want to chart a better future post-pandemic, we need to base our plans, projects, and even our day-to-day decisions on data. And we have to be part of or contribute to the solution however way we can. I have been working on data for development for six years now and I strongly advocate for evidenced-based policy or programming, especially in a context where some of our leaders base their decisions on what they hear from their friends or what they see on social media.
One of the things we did, as part of the multi-methods research, was to engage in short but deep conversations with tricycle drivers – one of those severely affected by the lockdown. For most of the people in the city, we move around using tricycles and the tricycle drivers we interact with on a daily basis have been the refuge of several commuters, rain or shine.
I thought that we can better understand the socio-economic impact of COVID 19 on Tagbilaran City residents if we ask tricycle drivers how they have been coping since the lockdown in March 2020. Our researchers spent 107 tricycle rides of considerable distance, so they can have these short but deep conversations with 107 tricycle drivers who continued providing transport service despite the threat of COVID 19, especially when Tagbilaran recorded its first few cases in the beginning of June this year.
I write this blogpost for two reasons –
a. document what we have found out so far and communicate our research findings;
b. and to tell you that if you have the means to do so, please support in whatever way, the different programs that are being implemented to help those that are most vulnerable
What has the pandemic done to our tricycle drivers?
1. COVID 19 has significantly reduced their income on a daily basis.
The temporary closure of businesses and the restrictions in movement of people has greatly reduced the need for transport services. No more incoming and outgoing tourists. Schools are closed. No more students to ferry all throughout the day. A great reduction in the number of workers plying the streets means reduced tryke-hailing. Senior citizens and youth below 18 are not allowed to go out. By force of regulation, tricycle drivers can only carry one passenger per ride.
“Lisod kaayo, lahi ra kaayo ako kita sauna. Iguon na lang gyud maam. Isa ra akong anak pero wala na gyud matigum. Wala ko lain saligan sa trabaho daginot gyud.”
(It’s really very difficult. The amount of income we earn now is significantly different from what we earned before. We really just have to make do with what we have. I only have one child but we really can not save. I don’t have any other source of income so we really need to stretch what we have as much as we can.)
2. To increase the chances of getting passengers, some start early and go home late.
As they can carry only one passenger at a time, some drivers need to rise up earlier than usual so they can get some headway and also work until night-time, hoping they can still get more passengers. Curfew is set at 9 pm even during General Community Quarantine so some drivers stay up until 8 pm, so they still have time to go home right in time for the curfew to take effect.
“Maski unsa na lang……….. Drive og sayo aron mahuman og curfew.”
(We do whatever is it that we can think of……..Start early and drive until curfew.)
Some of them pleaded with customers to increase the fare that they pay. Some were successful while others were not. Some were also thankful that some passengers who understood their situation give more. Some drivers who were renting their tricycles were also fortunate that their lessors decreased the daily rent.
3. They saved on food – their biggest expense on a daily basis.
Families of tricycle drivers need to cut on food to be able to stretch financial resources. For example, so that a kilo of rice can extend for more days, they will cook porridge instead. Several of them are thankful that the City Government of Tagbilaran through Mayor Baba Yap distributed rice so they will have to worry only of buying fish or canned goods for their “sud-an” (viand).
The usual resort is to buy “salted” goods – they last longer and you don’t have to eat a lot. Dried fish and “ginamos” (fermented fish) are usually the mainstays especially on days when the cash is quite tight. Even single tricycle drivers are experiencing hardships. The challenges are quite tight especially for those who are supporting bigger families.
“Apike kaayo. Bugas ug sud-an ra. Lugaw lugaw panagsa.”
(Situation is quite tight. Only rice and viand. Sometimes just porridge.)
4. Their wives need to step in to increase family income and on-kind resources.
Wives of tricycle drivers need to work to help increase the family’s resource base. Some cooked viand to sell or engage in other activities as doing laundry or ironing clothes for well-off families. Others also started backyard gardening to save on buying vegetables from the market.
Some tricycle drivers have wives that have full-time work. But others also have wives who are sick. Most families rely on manual labour to sustain themselves – so the more hands there are with the capacity to work, the lesser the hardship.
Reading through 107 transcripts, 107 stories of suffering and resilience, was a difficult and painful task. It reveals that while the pandemic affects us all, it hits the most vulnerable the hardest. It also shows us that ordinary and small things for some of us, already means life and survival for others.
So if you are living a comfortable life during this pandemic, please be thankful. If you can, please do share. There are many charities out there, including the Diocese of Tagbilaran’s ABAG program, that are doing an excellent job to help the vulnerable.
Also, whenever possible, support local producers. Those that sell on the streets and online. We need to help others survive. So let’s buy that puto (ricecake) for our snacks, or that avocado from our neighbor. Let’s support those who peddle fish early in the morning. If they charge P10 more when compared to what we can get from Dao Public Market, let’s not complain. Afterall, they bring it to our doorstep.
And for our leaders in government, find ways by which you will be able to support the vulnerable. Stop the nonsense of making decisions that make people lose jobs and drive them to a state of economic and psychological depression. We need to protect all jobs, formal or informal, regular or contractual. We are all in this together.
If you are reading this to this end, please pray with me. The night is still long. Let’s pray that all of us make it through the dawn stronger, and better.
(Image on this page was grabbed from Wayne S. Grazio See link here.)