The Jeepney Barker: Profile of a voiceless occupation

(An apologetic in behalf of the jeepney barkers. Another last requirement)

The Jeepney Barker

Profile of a voiceless occupation

Amidst the bustle of Metropolitan Davao, the jeepney barker, who recites the names of places with his booming voice, has been ironically voiceless in the discourse of occupational identity. In fact, with the recent news pertaining to the occupation, the barker has a generally negative image, an image which hides what might be one of the last altruistic roles on the Philippine Urban stage.
A discussion of what a jeepney barker is would necessitate us to delve deep into the details of everyday Filipino culture, beginning first with the concept of the Jeepney, then with the people who are labeled as jeepney barkers, where they are contextualized and what characteristics qualify them as such.  Following that, we shall look at the circumstances of most jeepney barkers, and look at how a jeepney barker operates on a day to day basis. There being a relatively little amount of literature on the latter parts, we shall rely heavily on information provided by interviews and made available online, information with which we shall nevertheless deal with caution.
The Jeepney

The Jeepney is one of the most popular means of public transportation in the Philippines. A portmanteau of the words “jeep” and “jitney,” the jeepney is a jeep customized to have a greater capacity for passengers. The maximum capacity of many jeepneys is 18.

The jeepney has its origins in the surplus jeeps sold or given away to Filipinos when the American army began withdrawing from the Archipelago upon the establishment of the Third Republic. Devastated by the Second World War, public transportation was crippled in almost all metropolitan areas. Filipinos customized the jeeps, calling them “jeepneys,” and began using them to let citizens travel around the city for a fee. The success of the venture was such that the government soon regulated the jeepneys, requiring a specific kind of license, forming different routes and standardizing the fare.

It must be understood that the word “jeepney” has come to be associated with the whole system of public utility vehicles that follow specific routes, and as such the word henceforth shall be used similarly: it may also refer to public utility mutlicabs, or any other vehicle that may be used thus.

The Jeepney Route and the Tornohan

Currently, jeepneys operate via different routes throughout the cities. In Metropolitan Davao, there are various routes that travel within districts, across districts, and across the cities of the metropolitan area.

Each route will pass by different loading and unloading areas, areas often located at the entrance of malls, or near pedestrian lanes, any location where there are many passengers waiting. Such areas are naturally chosen for their strategic location. But some areas are specifically selected for jeepneys to stop by for an extended period of time to load, regardless of the number of potential passengers there. In Davao jeepney parlance, the latter is specifically called “tornohan.” The “tornohan” is more common in areas through which a route which extends to a great distance away in the city passes by, and they are meant to let more passengers bound for that distant destination come and load.

The Driver and the Conductor

The jeepney may be operated by just one person, the driver. But often, the driver is accompanied by an assistant, called the conductor. The conductor is tasked with practically everything in the jeepney other than driving: managing the collection of fare, helping the passengers carry their things inside the jeepney, calling the attention of the driver to stop when a passenger is about to get off, or calling the attention of more passengers.

The Jeepney Barker

It is in the context of the unloading zone and the tornohan, and that of the need to call more passengers that we situate the Jeepney barker.

The barker, or dispatcher, is anyone who constantly mans a loading zone or a tornohan and calls the attention of potential passengers. In contrast to the conductor, however, the barker is not associated with any one jeepney in particular, and all the finances a barker manages are the payments he gets from the driver.

The Vocal Summoning of Passengers

The calling of passengers is a prominent part of jeepney culture. It involves the loud recitation of the different places a route will pass through. The places may be specific streets, public buildings (malls, hospitals), entire neighborhoods (villages, subdivisions), or even whole areas (like Toril or Obrero in Davao). The tone of recitation is generally tenor and flat, not rising. Gestures are sometimes made, like the beckoning gesture by hand. Sometimes, the barker or conductor taps the side of the jeepney, both to attract the attention of coming passengers and to tell the passengers already on the vehicle to make space for another one.

The vocal summoning of passengers is done by the conductor, at times the driver, and the jeepney barker. The act is of particular importance to barkers, because it is their primary task.

Manong “Upaw”: a Source

From here on, we shall be deriving our details from an interview with an actual jeepney barker, who has requested to be called “manong Upaw,” a moniker he is known by throughout the different unloading zones and tornohan in Davao.

I met manong Upaw in front of Gaisano Mall, performing his usual duties as barker. He was the only barker around, and he explained that the other barkers were still to come at around one in the afternoon.

Manong Upaw, a resident of Matina, has worked 20 of his 43 years as a jeepney barker, and in his career he has manned almost all the unloading areas and tornohan in Davao. He claims to memorize the details of every route currently operating in the city, a fact that conductors of different routes confirm.

Organization

The conductors that frequent Gaisano mall’s loading area confirm that manong Upaw exerts some authority over the other barkers that man the area. With this piece of information, I asked him about the usual Organization of jeepney barkers.

kaila ra man me diri tanan” (we all know each other here) he said. When asked if there was any organizational structure among the barkers of an area, he answered, “wala man, iyaha’y ra man ning amo. Apan tungod kay kaila ra man me, kami-kami ra pu’y mamadlong sa matag-usa. Kasagaray, ana man gyud sa mga tornohan” (not really, we go about our own businesses here. But because we all know each other, we check one another. That’s usually the case in most tornohans). Mentioning the authority the conductors attribute to him, he explained, “aw, maminaw ra gud ning mga buanga nako. Ako ra gu’y tig-badlong. Ug ini’g dunay problema ang sulod sa amo, ako ra sa’y duolon. Ako man gu’y kina-tuguang diri.” (Oh, these rascals (the other barkers) just listen to me. I’m just the one who always checks them. And when those inside (the G-Mall administration) have problems with us (barkers) they approach me. It’s likely because I’m the oldest here.) Manong Upaw stressed the fact that jeepney barking was a solo endeavor, but that areas would eventually see the establishment of barker communities that exercise ethical control over the barkers within it.

In House or Freelancing?

I asked Manong Upaw if he only stays in the loading area of G-Mall. “Karon, kay naanad na man ko. Apan mamalhin gud ang barker kasagaray, dili ra man na sila magpondo sa usa ka lugar. Naa ra na sa barker” (Right now, yes, because I’ve grown fond of this place. But barkers do move around often, they usually don’t stay in just one place. It’s really up to the barker himself.”)

Duration of stay and income

Then, I asked how long he usually stays in the area. “Samtang wala’y ginabuhat. Ako kay dili ra man ni akong trabaho – kadaghanan man sa mga barker naa sa’y ubang trabaho – nag-electrician man sad ko. Kon naa’y manawag nga mu-electrician ko, musibat na ko.” (So long as I’m not doing anything else. This isn’t my only livelihood after all – most of the barkers have other sources of income – I, for one, also do electrician job. So if someone calls for me to do electrician duty, I leave.) Manong Upaw revealed that, far from what Tugano (2011) says, jeepney barking is more a sideline than a main source of income.

I asked manong Upaw how much a barker usually earns. “Dako na nang 200 kada adlaw.” (200 a day is already a lot) “Dili man me mamugusay og driver gud, kon pila ra’y ihatag nila mao ra puy dawaton namo – piso ba diha, sinko o baynte.”  (we don’t force drivers you see, we just accept how much they give – be it just a peso, 5 pesos or 20). I asked if the driver is the sole source of income for a barker, and he said yes, aside from the rare tip from the passengers. Mentioning the recent arrest of a barker in corner Acacia after demanding more money, Manong Upaw said with disdain that it was not proper etiquette, what that barker did.

I also asked if the Barker gets anything from the establishment, and he says no, just the occasional Christmas gifts.

Other Services

I asked manong Upaw if calling out passengers was the only role of the barker. “Mao gyud na’y trabaho namo. Tabanga’y ra me’ng mga conductor ana. Usahay, inig naa’y dalang bug-at ang pasahero, labi na inig sama ani nga atbang sa mall o diha sa bangkerohan, tabangan namo’g bitbit ang pasahero.” (that’s mainly our job. We help out the conductors on that. Sometimes though, when the passengers have heavy things with them, specially like this in front of a mall, or there near Bangkerohan (market), we help the passenger carry the things) They do not get any additional income from this added service, he says. When I ask why the barkers do it, he answered “Aw, ikaw daw be, ini’g kakita ka’g naa’y dalang bug-at, dili ba nimo tabangan? Ug wala pud ta kabalo kon basig kinsa diay nang pasehero na na, ato pa’g kuyaw-kuyaw diay na.” (well, what about you, if you see (a passenger) with heavy things, wouldn’t you help out? And we can never tell if that passenger could be someone important).

Manong Upaw also mentioned the barker’s role in keeping the peace and order in the area. “Tungod kay kaila ra man ming tanan diri, ini’g naa gani’y wala mi kaila, bantayan na na namo, basig naa pa na’y ginaplanong kadaot.” (because we all know each other here, when someone we don’t know comes over, we keep our guards on, we don’t know if that someone might be planning something suspicious.) “Kanang naa’y isnatser sa mga mall, barker may kasagara’y makadakop ana, kay barker ma’y mag-una og gukod.” (those instances when there are snatchers in malls, it’s usually a barker who catches the snatcher, because it’s usually a barker who first runs after him). “Kaila na man me tanan diri, ug kabalo na pud me unsa’y dagway sa costumer o pasahero ra. Kon naa gani’y murag alanganin me, ignan na namo daan ang sekyu, o ang pulis ba.” (All of us know each other here already, and we know if the amblers are just customers or passengers. When there’s someone we’re suspicious of, we immediately tell the security guard, or the policeman at the corner.) Manong Upaw explains that this is important for jeepney barkers. Because they are not recognized as an occupation, the establishment or the police may readily have them removed.

The Ethics of Jeepney Barking

On that note of good virtue, I asked manong Upaw what a jeepney barker must always remember to do and to avoid.

He reiterated the need for the barker to assist the passengers whenever there are heavy objects to carry. But much of his emphasis is on what a barker ought not to do.

He laid stress again that the barker must only take what the driver gives out, and never complain if the driver does not give anything. “Kay wala man miingon ang driver nga mu-barker me, wa mi’y katungod mamugos og pabayad nila.” (because the drivers never asked for barker service, we have to right to force them to pay for that service). The whole system of barkers then relies on helpfulness and gratitude: the jeepney barker acts out of the desire to help the jeepney gain more passengers, and moral duty obliges the driver to hand out money as a token of gratitude for the help.

Manong Upaw also discussed about distance. “Manawag me’g pasahero, apan dili dapat namo gunitan ang pasahero, miskan sa likod pa na niya o aha ba. Nganong manggunit man me? Mapasanglan pa lang ta’g manyak ana.” (We call passengers, but we do not touch them, not even a tap on the back or anywhere. And why would we? We might be accused of sexual harassment.)
The Image of Jeepney Barkers

All this, unfortunately is hidden under a very negative image, for the barker has been viewed as lazy, the job useless, sometimes coercive to the passengers, a cause of traffic, and even a source of conflict.

An interview with an Ateneo student and regular commuter reveals a dislike for jeepney barkers on the basis of them being useless, coercive and causing traffic. “Samok (a bother), and they cause traffic” is how he described the barkers. “kabalo daw ko mupara sa jeep!” (I happen to know how to call a jeep on my own). He said the very nature of barkers is useless because a passenger can approach any jeepney on his or her own. This is echoed by Tugano (2011) who, in his blog related an interview with a driver who described the barkers as “considered a non value added activity.” “Ang uban mamugos mgpasakay ug tao” (some of them force people), the student added.

Tugano also further described the barker as “a job for lazy people.” The rationale behind this is the apparent lack of effort behind the job: all one has to do to earn money is recite the names of places. Tugano weaves this point into a contention that the barker is primarily associated with the urban poor who cannot get employment because of lack of educational attainment. “I wonder why these people settle for this kind of job and I’m not even sure if the money they get from it can suffice their daily and personal needs” he writes.

The Ateneo student discussed how he sees the barker as a cause of traffic. “kay magtambay na nuon ang mga drivers sa kung asa sila (barkers).. mag-congest na sa isa ka area. Tan-awa gud nang sa gawas sa school, pati sa G mall, diba, mag-traffic kay nagabark sila? tapos, ang drivers, nakita nila ang opportunity na makakuha ug pasahero, mag stay na nuon… maong magbara na sila.” (The drivers would opt to stay where these barkers are, then they begin congesting. Look in front of the school, or even in front of G-mall, doesn’t traffic start because they’re there barking? Seeing that there are barkers there, the drivers see an opportunity to get more passengers, and they opt to stay there, causing the traffic.) The student then proceeds to pointing out that this inevitably causes inconvenience on the commuters “kay magtambay man ang jeep kung naay barkers gud, so sila, mas madugay.” (because the jeeps will opt to stop where there are barkers, so the passengers are delayed.)

But perhaps what has contributed most to the negative image of jeepney barkers are the recent incidences of barkers engaging in violent behavior and being arrested.  As Tugano writes, “They (the barkers) sometimes have a feud because some barkers are abusive asking (sic) a lot even (sic) threatening drivers not to pass (sic) or stop on a certain area, owning it (sic) as their territory.” A simple Google search of “jeepney barker” will show links to news reports on barkers being brutally murdered, or arrested for demanding too much money. Just last month in Davao, a jeepney barker operating along Bonifacio street was arrested after demanding money from drivers, causing traffic in the area.
The Voice of the streets: Voiceless

All these images are revealed to the masses without hearing the side of the jeepney barkers themselves. It is understandable then why they have very poor images: they do not respond back. They are voiceless in the discourse of their own occupation.

I see one main reason why they cannot respond to defend themselves: there are language barriers: they do not speak the language needed to respond. Being preoccupied with blue collar livelihood, barkers rarely possess (and my limited time has rendered me incapable of finding anyone who actually does possess) the terminological precision demanded in intellectual discourse. There might also be a difficulty in the medium used: there is little chance the barker has writing skills to defend his occupation in the world of text. The fact that English is a dominant medium of communication in both mass media and academe – a language they are unlikely to be proficient in, only serves to complicate the matter. All a barker will ever do in response is a shrug in the shoulders and the continued recitation of the names of places.

Defending the Barker

But let us thus give voice to the barker, we with our proficiency and terminological precision, and look at how these negative images stand.

The Ateneo student interviewed has described how the presence of jeepney barkers causes traffic, particularly because jeepney drivers will opt to stay in the areas where the barkers frequent. But we have earlier mentioned that the jeepney barker only enters the context when the loading areas and tornohans have been established. Tornohans and loading areas attract barkers, and barkers do not create these areas. Furthermore, we also mentioned that these places are strategically located where many passengers will be present: in front of malls, busy streets, etc., factors beyond the control of barkers. And if we are to return the accusation on the drivers, who were never forced to stay in these areas, then the barker as a cause of traffic has been disproven.

Concerns of the laziness of the barker is also pointed out. All jeepney barkers do is call, and passengers have no need of them. This may be true, but for jeepneys without resident conductors, a driver calling out passengers will have less effectivity. With routes that have many jeepneys, an individual jeepney driver will need all the help he can get. Passengers might not need barkers, but jeepney drivers do. Also, the barkers have always served as free labour on the part of the passengers: the barkers have committed themselves ethically to help passengers carry heavy objects into the jeepney.

And on the point of Ethics, the instances of barkers who are coercive and who demand too much money may readily be dismissed as isolated instances: they are certainly contrary to the system Manong Upaw, who has been immersed in the occupation for two decades, presents. Manong Upaw even mentioned a barker in G Mall who jokingly said he was holding a bomb. The said barker was arrested and detained accordingly, and Manong Upaw expressed disapproval of the barker’s behavior. “Ginabadlong namo na siya, apan di gyud naminaw. Ingong naa’y balaod matod niana!” (we admonish him, but he never listened. We told him there was a law against that!) Furthermore, each area has its own community of barkers, and if there are any deviants the communities will try to exert some influence.

All that remains is the image of the barker as the occupation of the desperate. But when Manong Upaw revealed that he was also working as an electrician – and that most barkers are only barking to earn extra money, our image of desperate paupers is dispelled, and we instead see lower middle class people just out to get some extra income.

References

Casas, Arianne. Feb 23, 2012. “Jeepney Barker in Davao sued.” Sunstar Davao. Retrieved from http://www.sunstar.com.ph/davao/local-news/2012/02/23/jeepney-barker-sued-207768

Lema, Karen. November 20 2007. “Manila’s jeepney pioneer fears the end of the road.” Reuters. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/11/20/us-philippines-jeepney-idUSMAN1276320071120

Tugano, John. July 30, 2011. The Barker and the Jeepney Driver. [Web log post] Retrieved from http://blitheanduntroubledlife.wordpress.com/ 2011/07/30/the-barker-and-the-jeepney-driver/

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