Whenever you’re hungry, you grab your phone, tap a square, punch in your latest cravings, and painfully wait for someone to arrive at your door. However, outside the comfort of your home, what happens to the sole bridge between you and your food? Among the jeepneys and tricycles filling our streets are the delivery personnel donning their signature colors with the big box on the back of their bikes. With more and more delivery applications made available on our phones, it’s only fitting that we get to know the people who run through the busy streets to make sure we have no craving unsatisfied.
Leon Guinto street is home to many crowd-pleasing favorites like Dakasi, Kanto Freestyle Breakfast, and 24 Chicken. Many flock to these tasty Taft staples, and the rest who are too busy—or too lazy—well, they still get their fill through the ease provided by food delivery applications. It was on this busy little street that we found Mello*, just one of the motorcycle riders who ride out into the streets a little while before the dinner rush starts. He shows the cashier his phone with the order—standard protocol—and waits for its completion.
Mello has been doing this job for about eight months. When his previous job couldn’t support him any longer, he resigned and became a freelancer. Then, he ended up becoming a food delivery man. Constantly checking his phone to update his customer, Mello distractedly answers that he doesn’t see himself doing food delivery for the long haul. “Mainit eh,” Mello complains. (It’s hot.) However he says it’s better when the sun’s up because if the storms set in, he’s unable to work.
A waiter hands him his order, and he carefully cradles the plastic bag. Not wanting to keep him any longer, we say goodbye as he hops on his motorcycle. Within a few seconds, only dust and smoke remain where he used to be. Mello’s got places to go.
Above and beyond delivery
When asked about the realities of the job, Jovanni* paints a tale of cranky customers, long hours, and the labyrinthine streets of Manila. The latter one is his favorite—his free spirit delighting in navigating the alleyways and going to places he’s never been before. “Maraming experience sa kalsada,” he shares, like a secret.
(There are a lot of experiences to be found on the road.)
Like Mello, financial constraints led Jovanni to don the fuchsia pink and grey colors of a food courier company. The 23-year-old quit his job of seven years as a machine operator in a die cutting company because the pay was too low. Unable to finish his education, Jovanni couldn’t afford to be picky with the jobs he takes. He found himself applying to be a food delivery man after his neighbor informed him that Foodpanda was looking for riders.
With a salary solely based on the amount of deliveries he makes and no base wage, Jovanni has to work hard to rack up his delivery count. Oftentimes, delivery-based workers have to work long and odd hours just to earn. Jovanni narrates, “Madalas umaabot ako ng gabi para lang kumita”.
(I often work until night time just to earn.)
Aside from a lot of late nights, he also cannot avoid venturing into conspicuous areas. More often than not, he finds himself in tricky situations. “Andun na ‘yung napapaaway [ako] sa kalsada, kaya kailangan laging mahaba ang pasensya ko,” he says.
(I might get into fights in the streets, so that’s why I have to be patient.)
But even with the occasional tips, the wages from being a food delivery courier is often still not enough, especially with the taxing working conditions. “‘Pag malakas ulan, malakas tip kasi nakikita nila na basang-basa ako sa ulan,” Jovanni shares.
(Whenever it’s stormy, the customers tip better because they feel bad that I am drenched in the rain.)
Food couriers still delivering despite unfavorable weather conditions is not a rare occurrence. When asked about what he would like to change about his job, Jovanni voices out the hopes of many delivery personnel like him, “Taasan ang per deliver nila at taasan ang bayad sa oras kasi kulang eh.”
(Raise the per delivery [fee] and increase the payment for time because it’s not enough.)
This also means that he goes to work whether or not the weather is good. In the middle of the interview, Jovanni pauses to show a picture of him clad in a flimsy raincoat delivering food orders amid a torrential downpour. He explains, “Last year, puro bagyo, [pero] pumapasok pa rin ako dahil kailangan ko kumayod kahit masama panahon”.
(There were a lot of storms last year, but I still went out and worked because I really needed to earn money despite the bad weather.)
Jovanni might have been caged by his circumstances into taking these jobs, but in his passion he has a choice. You might see him zipping along the streets of Manila during the day, but by night, he is a volunteer firefighter at Octagon Fire & Rescue Volunteer. However, his already stretched salary still has to make room for the equipment he needs for firefighting.
And still, he rides—for there is no other choice.
Road to improvement
Being a delivery personnel is a tough job. They soldier their way into the chaotic streets among others trying to find their next paycheck. They brave the elements to make sure you have a little slice of happiness. There is a certain sadness upon the realization that our comfort came at the expense of theirs. But delivery personnel should be seen and heard. They do not have to be interchangeable faceless figures from your delivery applications. Behind their colorful jackets and food packages, Mello and Jovanni are just people trying to make a living. They have their own struggles and lives beyond their jobs, and a little kindness and understanding can go a long way—it might even make the dinner rush more palatable for them.
*Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms.