This habal-habal driver is also a farmer

VALENCIA CITY (MindaNews/03 July) — Berdan Medes, a “habal-habal” (motorcycle for hire) driver put a cap on his head and tied a raincoat
to the rear of his vehicle as he prepared to take passengers rain or shine to any of Valencia’s 20 interior barangays where close to 200 habal habal drivers like him are “king of the road.”

Valencia is Bukidnon’s busiest and probably most prosperous place but roads to its interior barangays passing through the great Pulangi River are mostly rugged. But no road is impassable for this 42-year-old Higaonon whose STX bike has come to be known in the hinterlands as “iron horse”.

He can move around with it the whole day, even ferrying passengers to neighboring towns. “It is heavy duty and runs well on less fuel,” he

But Nong Dan is farmer first and driver second. Everyday, he tends his rice farm in Batangan, a village just across the Pulangi.

As a wayward young man, he once worked shortly as a laborer in town but ended up returning to his farm.

“I might be a farmer forever,” he says.

The eldest of a brood of seven, Manong Dan is proud that he and his Higaonon ancestors stayed in the farmlands of the sleepy, lowland village of Sinayawan, one of the 31 barangays of Valencia City.

“It is natural for us to be farmers; most of us lived in the lowlands until the migrants came,” he said as he negotiated the muddy road to Sinayawan.

But he said he could not just rely solely on farming. As a married man, he realized he has to find other means, and he thought driving a motorcycle is most viable.

“I botched my attempt in carpentry work. Although I work as a harvester for other farmers, it’s not one you can depend on a daily basis,” he said.

In November last year, he applied for a three-year loan for a sturdy motorcycle. He said he acquired the loan both for his additional income and also to cut on his three children’s fare expenses. With the motorcycle, he drives his two high school-age children to school.

“It is double purpose, it is convenient,” he said.

Driving is just a backup for Manong Dan. But he said simple mathematics would show it is through driving that he earns his daily bread.

For every cropping of palay, he would earn a net income of P35,000. That’s the amount after deducting all the shares of harvesters, laborers, and threshers. He said for a family of five, this take home earning from the farm is barely enough.
Many times, he recalled, his wife would run to a village store for their daily food and from a micro-lender for cash to support their other needs.

“No one can afford to stick just to farming. In between harvests, you have to feed mouths,” he said.

But he is not alone. A number of his friends among habal habal drivers also consider farming as their main source of income. They started
acquiring a motorcycle, he added, when a motorcycle dealer offered affordable terms.

And when 18-year old Shella Mae, the eldest of their three children went to college to take up an education degree, he signed up for his
own motorcyle.

Manong Dan earns between P250 and P300 every day from driving. After saving P100 for the daily amortization of the motorcycle, he leaves
something for the daily needs.

Sometimes, he has to go to far destinations. He said he can’t afford to turn down an opportunity.

“I don’t mind if this brings me to long distances. As long as it’s for a clean living I will do it,” he said.
He keeps a simple gauge when he backs-off from an opportunity.

“If it affects the other drivers’ livelihood, I decline,” he said.

The other consideration is if the opportunity endangers his life and his family.

He said he remembers his children whenever he goes through trying times. Often, he is refreshed by the high marks her college student is earning in school.

He admitted he sometimes drinks with friends to relax, but he said nothing gives him the better motivation than to see his children finish their studies.

The habal habal drivers of Bukidnon, Manong Dan among them, were shaken when robbers preyed on drivers who had new motorcycles. Starting in 2008, the number of cases of habal habal drivers killed has increased.

According to the Bukidnon Provincial Police Office, more than half of the 222 cases of theft of vehicles in Bukidnon in 2009 involved habal
habal and private-use motorcycles.

The danger came closer to home when his nephew figured in a near-death situation. He was mauled and stabbed when he refused to give his
motorcycle to bonnet-wearing attackers.

Thanks to good people who saw the attack, he said. They rescued his nephew and scared the assailants away.

”The rain used to be a motorcycle driver’s top foe. Now, we have the robbers. We have only hard work but they have arms,” he said.

Manong Dan paused for a few seconds. Then he said, “No, I am not afraid. Ah, I am afraid. But I will not give up.”

He said the government must pursue the robbers or habal habal drivers will be afraid to serve the passengers in rural areas.

Thinking of his farm, he said the government should also be serious about its programs for farmers.

“We want to produce more so we could afford to send our children to school. We need real help in farm inputs. Maybe by then, I will work more in the farm and let less in driving.  (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)