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A barker signaling to the passengers what route he is assigned to fill in the jeepney before it leaves. Photo by Jay Nasser

The Jeepney Barker: A Voice Away from the Streets

In what seems to be ordinary days in people’s daily routines and in the busy hustle and bustle of the city, just a little over the pedestrian lanes where jeepneys come to a halt, comes the screaming city’s landmarks, trying to be heard over the loud honking of the vehicles and the maddening crowd of passengers that dash towards any automobile that could bring them home.

These jeepney barkers – those that wait outside malls, schools, and hospitals, those who face pollution and stay under the scorching heat on hours end or sometimes under unexpected rains –have their voices as their only capital. Unlike singers or call center agents who profit off their own voices, these jeepney dispatchers do not get half as much.

Oftentimes ordinary citizens try to avoid them, not wanting to be tapped on the shoulder or be asked where they’re headed to. Many are guilty as they get aggravated by the way they tap the side of the jeepneys as if there’s still room for one more.

But, these voices of screaming routes and beckoning passengers with hand gestures giving direction which jeepney to go also have quiet lives beyond the busy streets and the loud bellows.

Meet Kuya Sonny

A few meters outside the vicinity of San Pedro Hospital College and Hospital is where 38-year-old Sonny Manawis toils day and night as a jeepney barker.

Kuya Sonny is the fifth out of nine siblings and a father of four sons. The eldest child still in the third grade. The second child, due to financial constraints, had to stop for a year and is now still in kindergarten with the youngest twin siblings. He would have had a daughter but the child died due to dehydration just a little over a year after her birth.

He lives in Ecoland and would have to go to Guzman Street every day in order to work. Before being a dispatcher, he was a driver until he lost his license. He was only able to finish Elementary education and began driving at the very young age of 19. His wife, on the other hand, stays at home to take care of the children and would occasionally do laundry for other people.

Every day from around 7 in the morning until 8 in the evening, he fills jeepneys through the continuous recitations of places the jeepney will pass by.

He earns 2 to 5 pesos per jeepney, regardless of the number of passenger he is able to load the jeep. The highest he earns in a day reaches up to 150 pesos only.

Kuya Sonny does more than 10 hours of labor and yelling every day, even on the weekends. He works more than the working hours of any regular employee and yet can only earn so little it could not even amount to half the minimum wage.

“Bugas ug sud-an.” Kuya Sonny said when asked what he could buy and bring home to his family with such small amount. Nonetheless, he and his family is still thankful to be able to eat three times a day.

A life of limited choices

Along with the insufficient earnings, comes the additional struggles day by day. Apart from the passengers Kuya Sonny fills the jeeps, all other things seem to be out of his control.

There are times when jeepney drivers do not give him any money at all.

“Makasabot man pud ko kung usahay dili sila kahatag kay ako raman pud nagatawag maskin na wala sila nagaingon o di kaya usahay mabusy ko, di ko nila matagaan.” Kuya Sonny adds.

A long day under the heat of the sun and the non-stop shouting would always render one hungry and tired. The amount Kuya Sonny earns would then have to be deducted for him to buy his food.

“Usahay malibre ko anang nagabaligya ug prutas sa may ospital. Malibre ko sa ration. Kung wala, mabawasan jud ako maipon.”

He also shares that even if there are unexpected rains, he continues to work. Most of the time, even without an umbrella or coat to protect him. Staying in such unpredictable weather conditions sometimes results in fevers and sickness, but not even that could stop him from working.

“Trabaho gihapon pwera nalang kung naa’y kritikal jud na sakit. Kung kanang kalintura lang, kayanon jud nako.” he iterates. “Wala na’y payungay!” he adds.

Since, he is not the only dispatcher in the area, they just agree to work alternately when other dispatchers come.

“Dili man pud ni atoa. Sa gobyerno man ni.” he answered when asked if other dispatchers ever have disputes over who would get the money the jeepneys would dole out.

He shares that he constantly shares bad encounters with passengers, as well.

“Masuko sila kay ngano daw manawag pako maskin na guot na. Pasagdan nalang nako, kailangan pud ug pasensya.” he narrates.

As Christmas is just a few days away, Kuya Sonny says that he will still work and stay there until New Year. He shares that he and his family do not have any special plans for Christmas but if there will be any blessings, he will accept them with the highest of gratitude.

How much loudness is needed?

Such is the life of a jeepney dispatcher; their living would always depend on circumstances out of their control and no matter how hard they would work, no matter how little they receive, it’s a life they’ve grown accustomed to and a means of support for a family waiting at home.

These are the same people who brave the sweltering heat or the impulsive rainstorms for 2 or 5 pesos only. The same people who stay still and quiet under the rants of exhausted passengers wanting to go home even when they, themselves, also want the same but can’t risk to miss earning an additional 5 pesos. Theirs is the struggle that people do not often read about or even talk about and yet a manifestation still of gratitude and contentment. And while they guide commuters to the jeepney that would bring us to wherever we can lay our heads and rest, they remain standing where pedestrians and passengers cross paths.

But, there is the irony that surrounds these voices we hear every day and how little voice they have in the texts we read of their occupation.

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