NAGA CITY- A welcome competitor put 'padyak' (pedicab) drivers in Naga City on a day-off last August 15.
Along with four kids and a city councilor, Senator Manuel "Mar" Roxas drove a pedicab through the streets of downtown Naga, to the surprise and delight of curious onlookers, some of which exclaimed, "Nagpapadyak talaga si Kuya Mar! (Kuya Mar really knows how to drive pedicab!)
Wearing his signature blue shirt, Senator Roxas, a presidential aspirant, drove a blue pedicab from the market of Barangay Abella to the Regent Hotel in Barangay Dinaga. Total distance was about 600 meters. Behind him were hundreds of other blue pedicabs, which paraded through three interconnected streets in the city proper.
But midway through the parade, some drivers were lost on the way. One pedicab driver who did not give his name said, "Makaskason man magpedal si Mar, nagkabarayaan na kami." (Mar drives too fast that he is leaving us behind).
As Roxas drove through the city proper, people came out of establishments and were evidently surprised upon seeing the senator driving a pedicab with four ragged-looking boys. The scene was straight from the senator's TV infomercial.
But while some were cheering, other onlookers were saying otherwise.
Some pedicab drivers who were in the parade were overheard shouting, "Damang-dama na namin!(We feel it!)" But after the shouts, the pedicab drivers said in muffled voices, "Damang-dama na namin ang gutom. (We really feel hungry.)" They were playing on a statement from one of the senator's infomercials.
A pedicab driver who did not give his full name but only identified himself as Jojo said he felt Roxas was just doing a publicity stunt and was not sincere in being a pedicab driver for a day.
The drivers said they were neither paid nor given incentives to join the parade. "We were convinced by our association leader to join the parade to express support for Senator Roxas and we obliged," said one pedicab driver.
Accompanying Roxas while he was driving a pedicab were two police escorts in full uniform and armed with M16 rifles. Said one pedicab driver, "Maybe that's the reason why Mar drives too fast. Driving very slow could be unsafe for him."
The four kids who joined Senator Roxas in his pedicab were Jonathan Intia, 10; Argel Panesa, 10 and his brother Adrian, 12; and Buboy Abesa,9.
"We have seen on TV that Mar is taking along children when he drives a padyak. So when we saw Mar driving one, we hopped in," said Intia.
They all said they would have asked ask for slippers and clothes from the senator if they had been given the chance. One of the kids was barefooted while all were in unkempt clothes.
Philips Nieva, 36, resident of Barangay Abella and the real driver of the pedicab which Roxas used, said he was proud his pedicab were the one chosen by their association president to lend to Roxas.
Nieva, who has been pedicab driver since 1993, said Roxas was not yet assured of his vote, however.
"We are yet to know what he can do for us," said Nieva.
Nieva said with his meager income, he was finding it hard to send three of his five children to school. He said his net earnings from being a pedicab driver is only P80 a day on the average.
"If I had been given the chance to talk with the senator, I would have asked him to help us in securing our own houses. Most of fellow pedicab drivers I know are yet to have their own houses. We are just renting places where our families could stay, so rental fees are cutting our incomes," Nieva revealed.
But he said despite his situation, Nieva still believes that with a good leader, "there's still hope for the country."
Roxas, a former congressional district representative and trade secretary, was known lately for his TV infomercial showing him driving a pedicab with two poor children.
Roxas was in Naga to be the resource speaker in an activity by the urban poor association in the city. Jonas Cabiles Soltes