06 January 2024
Because of the woefully inadequate public transportation system in the country, many Filipinos are pressured to own a private vehicle--commonly a car or a motorcycle. Ironically, this results in another unwieldy situation: horrendous traffic congestion. But that’s another story. This tale is about how Filipinos with meagre means could own their vehicles.
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The Used-car Salesman
Alex had always been fascinated with cars. He used to help his father tinker with old vehicles for resale. If ordinary people hated going to repair shops where they had to wait for hours, Alex thought it was fun—just like playing a sport he enjoyed. He liked chatting with mechanics and looking for car parts in places like Bulacan and Cavite, known for allegedly stolen vehicles where they were then cannibalised for their parts. After all, he had been in this trade since he inherited it from his father 15 years ago.
Quick to give pointers, Alex said he usually looked for an old car with a decent mileage and a running engine. It helped a great deal that his wife worked in a large bank, particularly in a department which sold repossessed vehicles. With an experienced eye, she could give him leads, and once he had seen the car, he could readily tell when it had been upgraded with expensive accessories, as these could be taken out and sold separately. Conversely, he could tell when its original accessories had been removed before it was surrendered to the bank. For example, he was able to negotiate a good deal on a Toyota Wigo by pointing out a missing knob here and a cabin light there, stripped off by the previous owner. His wife’s less experienced colleagues, who didn't know that these parts are cheap and easy to source, were easily persuaded to give a good discount.
“You don’t have to fix every issue with the car,” he said, “but simply get it running, and address visible concerns, such as the mileage, some scratches and dents, or unusual noise and rattlings. As most buyers are not knowledgeable about car mechanics—appearance is everything. Therefore, my sales policy is on an “as is, where is” basis. Any problems found after the purchase are the buyer's responsibility.”
Alex added, “Networks are an important thing in this business. You don’t only want leads for potential buyers, but also a suki (repeat custom) for various reliable repair services at the best price. I know a guy for engine checks, another for paints and dents, still another for the air-conditioner, a fourth for hand-to-find parts, and so on.
“It’s the same for re-selling. I don’t usually deal with middlemen but advertise directly. I have a Facebook page where I post my latest vehicles for sale and where I have thousands of friends and followers: I use social media a lot. Then, I try to get as many repeat customers as possible by giving them good after-sales service. Second-hand cars usually come with a lot of defects, so I help them identify what’s wrong and then help them get the spare parts. That’s another source of revenue for me.
“I make good profit because I’m resourceful. We Filipinos are resourceful . . . we have diskarte (strategy). We work smart.”
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The Habal-Habal Passenger
The Philippine mass transit systems, such as the LRT (Light Rail Transit), MRT (Mass Rapid Transit), buses, jeepneys, and tricycles that regularly ply around Metro Manila have very limited routes and are few and far between. Thus, many residents have found an alternate means of transportation—one is the habal-habal (literally meaning ”sitting close to each other”), a local term for a modified motorcycle that can seat two, sometimes called “motorcycle taxis”. Heretofore, habal-habal was primarily used only in the less populated areas in the provinces where people must navigate rough roads not served by public vehicles. Recently, however, habal-habal has become very popular in Metro Manila as it fits the needs of its growing population with equally limited alternatives.
Lorna was a young office girl. A university graduate, she earned Php30,000/month (USD550). She used the habal-habal to commute to work every day: it was fast as it could wiggle its way between cars, vans, and buses through heavy traffic. Although she was often warned by her parents that the habal-habal was unsafe, she brushed off their concerns. Most of her friends, she said, were doing the same thing.
“It is simply the most practical thing to do if I were to reliably get to work on time. Besides, the habal-habal app on my phone is easy to use. Of course, I could walk—it would take me about 30 minutes--but I get sweaty by the time I reach the office. You know naman it is often very hot and humid here, so the 50-Peso ride is very much worth it. It is less expensive than Grab or Uber*, which charges three times more at about 150Pesos per ride. The buses or jeepneys, of course, are much less—as little as 13Pesos--but you have a long wait, and they are so unreliable.
“I am not careless; I wear loose clothes and proper shoes. I even sport a haircut that easily fits in the hairnet and helmet I am required to use. I then look at the driver to make sure he’s ok. I hear drivers and their motorcycles or scooters are carefully vetted by the dispatch company they are attached to, like Angkas, the company I use. Angkas demands proper documentation, such as driver's licenses and their machines’ registration papers. It maintains the app, regulates the services its drivers provide, and gives them pointers on road safety. Moreover, it has an insurance policy for all its drivers.
“I think it is only a question of time before the government gives habal-habal legal status, as it already does with Grab and Uber. Also, I hear Angkas is willing to be regulated by the Land Transportation Board and promises to abide by its preconditions. I don’t know why the government’s approval hasn’t come yet.”
*Uber has since pulled out of the country
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The Scootered Hustler
Raffy was a senior high school student. He had been a serious student most of his life as he had dreams for himself and for his future. But money had always been scarce. An orphan, Raffy was raised by his uncle Benito who worked as a mechanic in a talyer (local motor repair shop).
Early on, Benito taught Raffy how to hustle to get something he might need. Not having gone to school himself, he didn’t believe in formal education. “Better than being book-smart is to be street-smart,” he often intoned. “Kailangan kang madiskarte" (You need to be ‘strategic’). Benito taught Raffy how to buy a large pack of jellies from the market and sell them retail to his classmates, how he must regularly update his collection of Funny Komiks so he could lease them out, and even how to ‘raid’ the lost-and-found box at school to look for unmarked items that could be re-sold. “But you can only do this when you need money badly, or you will be suspected,” his uncle warned him.
Raffy only half-believed Benito. “If he was so smart,” thought Raffy, “how come he is only where he is now”? Instead, Raffy dreamt of landing a nice-paying job-- then he could even give his uncle generous presents.
One afternoon, Benito was surprised to see the helmeted Raffy drive up to him on a shiny silver, automatic scooter. It was all from honest-to-goodness hard work, Raffy insisted—just that, as his uncle had always advised, he used diskarte.
It seemed Raffy had earned quite a bit of money helping his classmates with their assigned work. An honour student, he was particularly good at math and could explain complicated concepts and solve confusing equations. At first, he did it for free. But when he was offered money as a thank-you gift, he got the idea of charging for his coaching services. As these tutorial sessions became more popular, he organised what he claimed was a side gig—a study group where each member paid a fee. It soon attracted even those outside his immediate class. In less than six months, he had earned enough for the downpayment on something he had always wanted, his very own scooter!
In the weeks ahead, Raffy would drive up to the talyer with every new accessory. To dress up his scooter, he added LED headlamps, blue hazy neon under-glow lights, new rims and suspension, a sturdy utility box, new grips for the handlebars, and an open pipe muffler to add extra noise to his scooter’s engine purrs. With exam time coming up, his side gig was doing well indeed. He informed his uncle further that, as gravy for his bread-and-butter business, he also offered to write his classmates’ assignments and to do their projects for them—naturally for a premium fee.
After several more months, Raffy drove up again—this time looking crestfallen. It seemed business was bad—many of his coachees had dropped out now that exams were over, and the urgent need was no longer there. What was worse, the teacher was starting to suspect that someone else was doing the work of the weaker students—and he was the prime suspect, partly because of his flashy scooter. Now, he could barely afford the next month’s amortisation, never mind the monthly payments after that.
“We will have to take the scooter back to the dealer before the repo agent comes,” Benito advised. “But first, take out everything you had put into it, plus some. I know exactly where we can get good prices for them . . . “
As a postscript to this experience, Raffy graduated with honours, but without his scooter. He knew he would have to postpone realising his dreams until after university, when as a business major, he would be able to execute a more effective and longer-lasting diskarte.