Thousands of Filipino jeepney drivers are begging on the streets of Manila after being forced off the road by COVID-19 lockdowns.
Jeepney driver Daniel Flores is typical of out of work drivers. He now plies the streets on foot begging for money to feed his hungry family.
The 23-year-old has not picked up a passenger since March when public transport was halted and people ordered to stay home as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s government tried to slow the fast spread of COVID-19.
Jeepneys — first made from leftover US jeeps after World War II — are a national symbol in the Philippines and serve as the backbone of the country’s transport system, providing rides for millions of people across the country for as little as 9 pesos (two cents).
Drivers like Flores, and millions of others, are out of work after the months-long restrictions crippled the economy, plunging it into recession.
With no income and debts piling up, Flores started living in the jeepney with his wife, two of his children and a fellow driver after they were evicted from their apartment because they could no longer pay the rent. Instead of sitting behind the wheel, Flores has spent many days begging for food just to get by. He sent his baby daughter away to live with family so that she would get fed.
As the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in the Philippines surges past 157,900 — the highest in Southeast Asia — and Manila endures another lockdown, Flores has no idea when he will be allowed to drive again.
Even when the initial lockdown restrictions in Manila were eased in June, only a fraction of its 55,000 or so jeepneys were allowed to operate under strict rules.
Those used to pocketing as much as 1,500 pesos a day had to settle for much smaller takings. Then a new lockdown imposed on Aug. 4 in Manila and four surrounding provinces forced those lucky few off the road.
Some drivers are worried they might never drive again as the government phases out smoke-belching jeepneys that are 15 years or older.