The moronism in ‘ordering’ bus drivers and conductors to be paid fixed salaries

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.

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19 Comments on "The moronism in ‘ordering’ bus drivers and conductors to be paid fixed salaries"

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Jon Limjap

In fairness to the DOLE this ruling was brought about 6 months ago and I have never gotten the impression that this is a silver-bullet measure to solve the transport woes of the metro.

On the other hand no amount of rule-changing will change the fact that the current system of buses in Manila are severely inadequate for the purposes they serve.

Andres Reyes

Enter the Bus Rapid Transit System pioneered by Brazil and Colombia.


Just do away with the bus system altogether and promote rail transits and subways. It certainly helped crowded cities like Tokyo.

Andres Reyes
The failure of Metro Manila in coming up with a comprehensive mass transport system is also true in the other urbanized places of the country. There is lack or absence of effort by those concerned in finding solutions that now is slowly turning the city streets of Cebu, Iloilo, Davao and Cagayan de Oro into one big mess. But we can’t blame these cities because there is no national master plan as basis that will harmonize, consolidate and connect all modes of mass transport. Is our bureaucracy suffering from “intellectual bankruptcy” in solving these problem that stares at us 24/7… Read more »
Hyden Toro

It is a BAND AID solution, to a festering problem. Drivers in the Philippines, just don’t follow traffic rules and laws. And, if they are caught in traffic violations: the “lagay” always work. I know some people, who are issued drivers licenses; but they do not know, how to drive…so the problem is like a cancer that has spread all over the country, especially in our cities…

Nicon Fameronag

Let’s begin somewhere. D.O. 118-12 is beginning somewhere.


Cebu seems to be planning BRT to MCIA to the metro.
I hope that MMDA sees this and copies the scheme.


Abolishing the boundary system should come first.


God I miss reading Nick Joaquin, especially that wonderful eloquent quote on the ‘jeepney’ mentality. We don’t have people like him anymore.

Instead I get to hear “TeeebEHHHH…..Patrol!” :p

Bus drivers are finally going to drive right? Never happen and does anybody really know what these big shots make per day? Government and the very wealthy that own these buses can buy up some of the properties that bottle neck the roads and make some room, this should have been done decades ago it takes hours just to get to Manila and all sort of overpasses that make Manila look like a scene from the Jetson’s, many, many area’s need to be totally wiped off the map to make room for real Urban development, putting up all sort of… Read more »

This is going to sound harsh, but demolishing the slum areas would certainly help the ailing infrastructure of Manila. With all that land, they can pave more accessible roads and other public amenities.

As for the squatters, well, the government will need to find away to send them back to the provinces and give them employment there. Oh who am I kidding? This is the Phil. government I’m talking about which is incompetent oon so many levels.

Just vacationed in Manila a few weeks ago, now I’m back home in Cali. Just happy to be back in one piece after a bus rear-ended our van and crushed the back side of it. Add to that, most vehicles in the PI don’t have any seatbelts, so I’m very glad none of us were injured or anything. They need to make a system of bus stops and bus schedules, loading and offloading anywhere they want is pretty ridiculus. Couple of things I found stupid about traffic during my stay. – Vehicles do not stop at Red Lights – Some… Read more »
Danny Swift
“Unforunately for Filipinos, thinking things through is not exactly one of their strongest skills.” Well said bengin0. The deep rooted Filipino way of thinking disables them to have the stamina to think things through. That’s one of the reason why all the government’s solutions to problems are not only extremely shortsighted but haphazard as well. My elementary school teacher once said “everything that the government touches turn to s**t, not gold”. This salary scheme of DOLE would only bring more hell into the lives of the bus drivers who are already overburdened by the bloodsucker policemen. Just like the jeepney… Read more »
jim esposito

HELP! Does anyone have any current updated
information on the status of the MMDA
“greeprint 2030) that report was supposed to
be published May 12th….and I have not
seen any newsrelease regarding the
subject of when phase two is expected to
be published? I would like to see a
full report published on the MMDA web page and in the newspress so the public can
witness what the contents, study, report
outlines as what needs to be done now!


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