July 30, 2021
Caloocan tricycle drivers receive—and give—in the first of three relief goods distributions
By Joy Rojas
Dave Puno was picking leaves from a malunggay tree at the back of his family’s home in Caloocan, when the riprap he was standing on suddenly collapsed. “I should have been dead,” he says, “because I nearly landed on my head.” Instead, he fell on his left arm, breaking it and his lower right foot in the process. Puno has been on a wait list for surgery for four months and counting.
The accident is just the latest in a string of misfortunes for the 40-year-old BASI TODA tricycle driver. Since the pandemic in March 2020, Puno and his fellow tricycle drivers in Caloocan North have only been able to ply their routes thrice weekly, given strict lockdowns and people mostly working from home. “You’re lucky if you’re able to make Php300-Php400 a day,” says the driver who earned twice as much pre-pandemic.
It’s certainly not enough to support his young family. Puno’s wife, in fact, had just given birth to their third child and it was for her that he was picking the highly nutritious and calcium-rich malunggay leaves. For now, the couple relies on dole outs from their respective families. “I don’t know when I’ll drive again,” he says.
Puno was among the 2,721 tricycle drivers who braved torrential monsoon rains to attend the first of three distributions of rice and relief goods organized by Tzu Chi Foundation at the Caloocan Sports Complex last July 28. The drivers, who presented their licenses and QR codes to Tzu Chi volunteers, each received two sacks of 10-kg rice and bags containing brown sugar, salt, cooking oil, vinegar, soy sauce, Taiwan cereal mix, spaghetti sauce and noodles, bath soap, and detergent.
“Hope you can help others, not just us,” says Puno, who was assisted by fellow drivers and volunteers in claiming his goods.
In the throng of tricycle drivers, MHQH TODA President Danny Congallo stood out for the orange sign he was carrying. “THANK YOU!!!” he wrote in Pilipino. “TZU CHI FOUNDATION MASTER CHENG YEN FROM: MHQH TODA.”
“The reason I made this banner is because I want Master Cheng Yen to know that we are very thankful to her,” he says and sobs. “Though this sign, we want her to know how we feel—that in our hardships, she helped us. Thank you very much.”
In keeping with Master Cheng Yen’s call to “give without expectation but with gratitude,” the distribution of relief goods also included an area where beneficiaries could donate any amount they could spare as an opportunity to do a good deed. The pledges, mostly coins, were dropped on bamboo “slides” and collected in a clay jar. Tricycle drivers were also given Tzu Chi coin banks to fill and return in future distribution gatherings.
Despite the difficulties he and fellow tricycle drivers are going through, Rojito Rollan Jr. is not only willing to extend assistance to others; he has initiated projects that benefited marginalized groups before. Together with his members, the president of the BASIDECO TODA group of drivers has organized feeding programs for children and the elderly. He has also apportioned some of the group’s savings to its members and used the rest to purchase rice for them.
For this distribution of relief goods, only 50 BASIDECO TODA members showed up, as most opted to side hustle as delivery riders when they’re not driving their tricycles. Even so, Rollan has the plan to compile all the goods received and divide them equally among members, so no one goes home empty-handed.
Recounting how some drivers would just waive the fares of commuters who have little to no money to pay for their ride, Rollan says, “This is the biggest challenge tricycle drivers have had to face. But God won’t give us anything we can’t handle. And it is better to give than to receive.”
“Thank you for all the help you are giving to so many people,” says the 42-year-old husband and father of three, pausing to wipe away his tears. “Will life being so hard these days, we never thought that we would receive this kind of assistance.”
The next dates of the distribution of relief goods for Caloocan North tricycle drivers are on August 22 and September 26 at the Caloocan Sports Complex. A distribution of relief goods for tricycle drivers in Caloocan South will take place in Caloocan High School on August 8, September 12, and October 10.