In many ways I am still reeling from my day yesterday.—just wait til you see the footage in our doc in this summer’s Kultura Festival in Toronto.

The many many mosquito bites I have on my arms and legs remind me of sleeping on a table in a dusty open air jeepney depot in Novaliches, Quezon City documenting the very simple life of one driver.  I spent the next morning (yesterday) with the driver, and by the evening I was having a beer by a pool in Alabang, the premiere gated community for the Manila elite.

I was put in touch with PISTON (Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide) an organization of transit operators and drivers who introduced me to Joseph, a 50 year old driver with four kids in Novaliches.  I stayed with him and his family and then joined him on his Novaliches to Blumentritt route.

Joseph lived with his youngest son and daughter, and with the daughter of their eldest child, who is also a jeepney driver.  Joseph is the president of the Novaliches PISTON chapter, and he pretty much lives in the depot, in a little shed that’s a canteen for drivers during the day.  It’s one ‘room’ made of thin wood and tarpoline.  At night, for space reasons, he sleeps in a jeepney.  [* And I slept on a table, without a blanket, wearing shorts and a sando (a ‘beater’), with the mozzies.]

It’s a tough life.  Much of life here in Manila is tough.  The money he makes comes after paying off the gas (about P1500/$34 a day), the jeepney rental from the operator (P650/$146 a day).

On a good day he’s left somewhere around P300-500 ($6.75 – $11.25).  He drives 13+ hours a day.

So with this and the money his wife makes from the canteen, they raised their four kids and put them through school (the eldest just graduated from college in criminology).

The cost of gas has really cut down their incomes in recent years.  Fuel here costs about the same as in Canada, about P45 ($1) for a litre of unleaded, and P34 ($0.76) for diesel.

The minimum fare for jeepneys is P7 ($0.16).  And each vehicle can fit at most 22 passengers (ten lined up on each side in the back, two up front next to the driver).  You do the math to figure out how many rides it takes to make a profit.

That evening I went with Vince to visit a new friend in Alabang (thanks Anjo who introduced us to Anna who introduced us to Charisse!).  We were able get some footage of this very difficult to enter gated community for the top of Manila’s economic food chain.

After being saluted by the armed guards at the gate we saw another Manila.  One with wide-open streets, large homes, a brand new and super swanky church, and it’s own golf club.  Ex-presidents live here, religious leaders and current presidential candidates live here, and top business-people live here.

And of course, our awesomely hospitable and amazingly generous friend Charisse (who’s a big promoter of Philippine tourism, she does tours of indigenous Philippines, and was the former host of a travel show), her husband (the soon to become lawyer),  and their young two year old daughter.  [*Thanks sooo much for your help with our project.]

It was quite the day I tells ya.  It was a day of contrast in uber-contrasty Philippines.

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I’m going to save most of the pics and footage for Kultura so you’ll have to wait a bit to see more!

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All photos: ©2010 alex felipe  / All Rights Reserved.

Please contact the photographer with use inquiries.

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*originally published in Project Balikbayan