Oftentimes, life is being likened to a wheel. One may be on top today but at the bottom tomorrow. Who would have thought that wheels could lead people to a journey leading to better lives despite a crisis?

For Mark Pamuti, making ends meet is barely possible until he became a member of the Active Riders Passenger Group (ARPG),

Top photo: EARNING WHILE HELPING OTHERS. “Angkas at Padala 24/7 (Cavite)” Facebook page can be tapped to hail services, such as doing groceries and other errands, for as low as PHP70 “pabili” fee. This page has been a go-to page of many Caviteños for their needs, and for riders to help them get by. (Image grabbed from “ARPG 24/7 Cavite” Facebook page)

“Dati, kung saan saan lang kami nakikikain ng anak ko, pero ngayon napapakain ko na ng masarap ang anak ko (Before, my son and I don’t know where we would get something to eat. But now, I am able to feed him something delicious),” he told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) in an interview over the weekend.

ARPG was initially established in 2018, with the main purpose of conducting charity rides, and for people to meet new friends with common interests during long rides. Jane Tomon, ARPG Cavite chapter head, created a Facebook page for this group, with about 30 members.

More meaningful journeys began at the start of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic. Tomon renamed the page to “Angkas at Padala 24/7 (Cavite)”, where the community could tap the riders’ services to do errands for them.

“The group suddenly reached more than 5,000 members during the pandemic because many got laid off. When we had a total lockdown and were placed under the enhanced community quarantine, people had no choice but to find strategies (to earn a living),” Tomon told PNA.

As of writing, the page has 129,246 members consisting of riders and customers.

As delivery and errand services boomed during the health crisis, the ARPG was able to help the riders, as well as save small restaurants from closing, she added.

Tomon shared that while some riders were able to go back to work, many are still jobless since many companies have either closed down or downsized their manpower.

Pamuti, who raises his 11-year-old son alone, was unemployed and had taken side jobs in order to get by.

His life changed when he joined ARPG. It was also via its Facebook page that he met his current partner, whom he said was his former customer.

He had catered to many customers during the pandemic and was able to save money that he also used to pay for his motorcycle.

“I am thankful to Ma’am Jane Tomon. Because of the ARPG 24/7 page, I am now able to feed delicious food to my son, as well as buy the things he wants like PS4, pay for his studies,” Pamuti said.

Mark Pamuti and his son apparently had to go to neighbors and friends in order to get a meal. (Photo courtesy of Mark Maputi)

Crossroads

There was a point when Joseph Peñaranda saw his life as a mess. It came to a point when he only had PHP2,500, weighing the pros and cons of risking PHP2,000 so he could offer services via the said Facebook page.

Riders need money as an advance payment for the items that customers would ask them to purchase. That would also mean they are taking the risk of encountering bogus customers.

“I prayed to God and left PHP500 to my wife. I told her that if I lose, at least we still have PHP500,” Peñaranda said.

Everything went well, and Peñaranda was able to shoulder his wife’s monthly check-up and childbirth. Now, he is grateful and considers himself blessed. Because of this, Peñaranda tries to give back by giving some groceries and rice to the needy.

“Covid-19 is just testing us, to make us realize that we could do good and make others smile,” he said.

Peñaranda (second from right) and his friends distributed some sacks of rice to the needy in Cavite. He says he and his friends also distributed some groceries on different occasions. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Peñaranda)

Ariel Lagda, an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) for nine years, came home with his OFW wife in March, but they were not able to go back abroad.

“We came home from Dubai, but there was a lockdown (here) and we were not able to go back. A friend suggested me to join the ARPG to have an income,” he said.

Joining the ARPG has helped him a lot financially, saying that this has been an avenue for him to pay for his bills and daily expenses.

“My wife who was an OFW for 18 years, and I, have no source of income during the lockdown,” Lagda recalled.

Among the struggles he faced were the weather condition in the Philippines, as well as some nasty customers.

“The rains, and sometimes too much warm weather conditions, were challenging. There were customers who have canceled their orders when I was already in their location,” he said.

Like Lagda, Nhie Ortiz also had to deal with bogus buyers, but would like to tell his fellow riders to persevere, as there is God who continuously guide them. Ortiz said he was a former supervisor at a Chinese KTV in Makati, and now earns about PHP500 a day through the ARPG services.

Arnold Samalea lost his job at the store where he previously worked as a kitchen staff. Joining the ARPG enabled Samalea to help his family and to get by since this is also where he gets the money for his daily expenses.

A former sales associate, John Patrick Camacho found himself earning at least PHP500 daily from legitimate customers.

“It helps me to earn a living, without having to pay for anything,” he said.

Camacho wanted his fellow riders to strive harder amid the pandemic.

“Have dedication and think of those who will benefit from your earnings,” he said.

A father of two, Ian Jancel Paquiran is another grateful former employee, who now gets his daily income from being a rider.

“Be fair and be polite at all times,” he tells fellow riders.

Safety first

To ensure customers’ safety, valid IDs, barangay clearance, and NBI clearance are required to become an ARPG member.

“Just like in the services apps, we do not tolerate if (the riders) committed mistakes or if there are customer complaints. We investigate and take the necessary actions,” Tomon said.

Interested individuals also need to attend a seminar to become a member.

“They don’t have to pay for anything. Everyone is welcome to join, and we endorse them to ARPG chapters near them,” Tomon shared, adding that the ARPG has 23 chapters nationwide.

Aside from offering errand services, the group also holds various charity activities, all by using the members’ own money, according to Tomon.

(Photo courtesy of Jane Tomon)
The group has provided some school supplies earlier in October. (Photo courtesy of Jane Tomon)
Another charity even where the ARPG members distributed some groceries (Photo courtesy of Jane Tomon)

She does not get any monetary amount from organizing the group and the Facebook page.

“Many of the members are my friends, and our interests are mainly in charity rides and long rides,” shared Tomon, who’s into tax services.

Thousands have already benefited from the page — from asking riders to buy medicines, milk and diapers late at night, do the groceries for them, have their products and documents reach other destinations, to ordering their meals and cravings. What seemed quite impossible to avail of during a community quarantine became so reachable because of the riders’ help.

Availing the service via the ARPG’s page is faster since riders would try to get ahead of others to get the booking, Tomon added.

Availing of the services via its Facebook page is also more affordable compared to booking the services via popular advance order delivery services apps, she said.

Some members may have hit a low point in their lives but they did not give up, fueled with determination to survive and rise again.

In this digital age, amidst a pandemic, the ARPG was able to show what “bayanihan” truly means. (Ma. Cristina Arayata, PNA)