Why am I not surprised that the move of the Philippines’ Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to implement an order to change remuneration of the country’s public utility bus drivers from a commission-based payment scheme to a fixed-salary scheme fell flat on its face? DOLE Order Number 118-12 which mandates this transition supposedly had taken effect on the 1st July of this year. However, the Philippine Supreme Court in a status quo ante (SQA) order stopped the implementation after a group of bus operators filed a petition claiming the order is unconstitutional.
Who can blame these bus operators? The soundness of the entire business model of operating city buses in the Philippines is hinged on the behaviours driven by the current drivers’ commissions payment scheme. A summarily-implemented fixed salary scheme simply yanks the proverbial rug from under a house of cards built over decades of short-sighted Filipino governance.
The commission-based “boundary” system is but one component of a systemic problem that festered as the lack of a coherent broad-based mass transit plan for Philippine cities endured following the destruction in World War II of the system built by the United States colonial government. Instead of a state-run system or one highly-regulated privately-run operation, the challenge of public transportation was tackled with the small-mindedness that has come to characterise the Filipino Way of doing things — using the now familiar stop-gap tingi measures consistent with the Philippines’ heritage of smallness. National treasure Nick Joaquin who coined that phrase in a stroke of prescient brilliance wrote back in what is likely to have been the 1960s…
It’s two decades since the war but what were mere makeshift in postwar days have petrified into institutions like the jeepney, which we all know to be uncomfortable and inadequate, yet cannot get rid of, because the would mean to tackle the problem of modernizing our systems of transportation–a problem we think so huge we hide from it in the comforting smallness of the jeepney. A small solution to a huge problem–do we deceive ourselves into thinking that possible? The jeepney hints that we do, for the jeepney carrier is about as adequate as a spoon to empty a river with.
While buses that have since come around to ply major thoroughfares in Manila are an improvement in size over the jeepney, they are not necessarily an improvement in effectiveness (much less efficiency) given that they are still operated under the same principles.
Sure enough, rapid population growth outstripped the ability of a minimally-regulated free-enterprise approach to public transport operation to deliver effiicent, safe, and reliable services. Yet despite the appalling quality of these transport services, profitability did not suffer. Indeed, operating buses remains a very lucrative enterprise; and in a society populated by imagination-challenged people, it is the choice cash cow of the usual suspects who tend to be involved in dirty businesses — politicians, cops, and the well-connected.
Do we really think a single laughable “order” issued by the DOLE will really precipitate change in the deep-rooted weed garden that is the Philippine public transport industry?
Quite simply, to be able to implement a public transport system operated by key personnel on fixed salaries, you need to implement a system designed to function under such a fixed salary scheme. In the current environment in Metro Manila where traffic is heavy, no consistent system of bus stops exist, where roads are not laid out in a manner conducive to bus operation (the way they were meant to be operated), and where routes have been over-franchised, simply “ordering” bus operators to change the way they pay their drivers will not work. That’s an epic fail in the field of Stakeholder Management 101 as is evident today.
That’s not to say the need to change is not imperative. Indeed, it is only in wretched cities like Manila that you see public utility drivers incentivised to drive like animals and endanger life and limb in the pursuit of that next paying passenger. But like in most initiatives involving multiple stakeholders in a complex environment, change needs to be managed — an endeavour that requires a lot of thinking things through. Unforunately for Filipinos, thinking things through is not exactly one of their strongest skills. The way the DOLE “managed” this initiative as well as those who wax indignation over the SC SQA order is evidence of this collective intellectual bankruptcy.
[Photo courtesy HabagatCentral.com.]