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Mr. Speedy Driver, an Ex-Pop Star, is Riding Out COVID-19 with Grit

Filipinos displaced by the pandemic are getting by with grit.
by Ara Eugenio
Oct 15, 2020
Photo/s: Ara Eugenio

Before actor and singer Daniel Padilla repopularized it, "Ako'y Sayo Ika'y Akin Lamang" was originally written and sang by the band IAXE in the '90s. Fast forward to almost 16 years since their disbandment, main vocalist Jek Manuel is now a delivery rider for service app Mr. Speedy, after being left with no source of income due to COVID-19.

Like the devoted and hopeful lover in his pop hit, Manuel is powering through the crisis like millions of others who either lost their jobs or endured pay cuts because of COVID-19 -- with resourcefulness, faith and grit.

Prior to his current work, Manuel worked in Shenzhen, China as a bar singer. He spent the last Christmas holidays in the Philippines to be with his family. When he was about to go back in early February, the coronavirus forced China, and later the Philippines, into lockdown.

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Manuel was stuck in Manila. It didn't help that his wife, a dermatologist, was confronted with rental dues for her clinic and their travel agency, which forced them to shut both down to cut down costs. 

"Nung panahon ng ECQ, nagwoworry kami noon kasi andami talagang gastusin. Upa sa apartment, kuryente, tubig, pagkain sa araw-araw. Totally wala eh," he said. 

They knew nothing was going to happen if they just sat around, as the health crisis got worse. They decided to entertain the idea of putting up a home food business, with their house helper as the main cook. They experimented with different dishes, asked relatives for inputs, and from there, Thank God It's Tuesday (TGIT) was born. 

Named after his wife, the food business serves filling food like Baked Lava Potato, Vietnamese Spring Rolls, and Peri-Peri Chicken. They initially relied on other riders to do the deliveries for them, as Jek didn't have any motor bike to take charge himself. Eventually, when they figured they need extra income, he decided to apply for multiple service riders and got accepted first in Lalafood as a bicycle rider.

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When his application for his own motor bike got approved, things started to move more swiftly, taking charge of their customers orders. He also found time for other deliveries. His instincts as household head had kicked in.

"Dumating kami sa punto ng frustration. Sino ba naman hindi? Kasi pataas nang pataas yung bilihin ngayon, at yung plano niyo nasira. Siyempre we have to move on. Talagang matututo kang kumilos dahil kailangan mong gawin. Or else, lalo kayong babagsak," he said. 

In the coronavirus crisis, delivery riders are frontliners, too. Jek is well-aware of this, and he is no stranger to the danger of getting sick as he interacts with various people daily. 

"Masaya kasi I get to know different kinds of people and napro-promote ko pa at the same time yung mga gusto ko ipromote. But then, mahirap din bumyahe kasi delikado," he said. 

Manuel said his love for sports prepared for the job. He is part of the Philippine Dragonboat Rowing Team (PDRT) Fireblades and participated in competitions prior to the lockdown. He also has his own hiking team. 

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Above everything, Jek says he has no other hope but for his family to remain safe from the deadly virus. 

"Hindi lang yung mag back to normal lahat, dapat mawala na yung threat na you’ll lose your family members to this virus," he said.

In as much as he hopes for their family's current food business to take flight, he said his plan is still to return abroad where he's assured of a stable income. Only this time, as an English teacher. 

"Kung pwede lang 'di na mag abroad eh. Kaya lang meron akong college, magdodoctor," he said, referring to her daughter who is currently a freshman at Ateneo de Manila. 

"Hindi lahat ng panahon okay. Talagang matututo kang kumilos dahil kailangan mong gawin.  It’s a test of patience. Iniisip ko nalang na plan din to ni God, na the reason why I stayed here and spent the holiday season, is so I could be with my family. I have no complaints naman. Kailangan mo lang talaga tanggapin lahat," he said. 

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