The Philippine jeepney had its origins at the end of World War II, when Filipinos began converting Willys Jeeps left behind by the American GIs into funky mini-buses — complete with stainless steel bodies, multi-colored lights and mounted padded benches, not to mention creative folk art that adorn both their exterior and interior.
The jeepney has withstood, or shall we say defied, more than six decades of mass transport modernization that has seen the fielding of air-conditioned taxis, vans and buses as well as the light railway system.
But is the jeepney headed for extinction?
It may well be, thanks to the Public Utility Vehicle modernization program of the government, seeking to provide a safer and environment-friendly option for commuters. The program seeks to replace all old jeepneys aged 15 years or older with new units. That would involve — according to the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) — some 180,000 jeepneys nationwide.
So that’s welcome news, right?
Not if you ask PISTON, the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide, an alliance of jeepney drivers and operators. It wants to junk the government’s modernization program and to start new dialogue with the Department of Transportation (DOTr), which is overseeing the program.
To push its agenda, PISTON recently staged a two-day nationwide strike, prompting the national government to suspend classes in order to cushion the impact of the jeepney standstill.
PISTON claims that the modernization program will seriously affect the livelihood of drivers and operators who have to cough up the cash or take out a loan to finance the replacement vehicles.
The DOTr argues that investing in the new vehicles, while benefiting the commuting public, will eventually accrue to the financial benefit of jeepney drivers and operators.
But the issue is not just about pesos and centavos. It’s also about nostalgia.
For many Filipinos, they have relied on the jeepney for their daily commute for most of their lives, in which they have mastered the art of passenger and driver interaction, not to mention etiquette.
“Para po,” “barya lang po,” “paki-ayos lang po,” (please stop, small change only please, make room for another passenger please) are just some of the familiar verbal requests that highlight the uneventful, albeit uncomfortable commutes. And how can the first-time jeepney rider not be amused by the passing of the fare from one passenger to the next until it reaches the driver?
No other country can lay claim to the jeepney. World fairs and international expositions would not be complete without the Philippines displaying an actual or prototype jeepney to the amusement of guests.
The Philippine government’s tourism promotion campaigns almost always include a photo or graphical representation of the jeepney.
There’s a lot to miss (or not) when the jeepney as we know it is finally laid to rest. No more deafening motor and stereo sounds. No more wide turns for their lack of power steering. No more smoke belching. No more maneuvering up the curbs. No more loud horns. No more imitation Mercedes Benz logos.
Will this Philippine icon be relegated to the museum? Or memorialized in the lyrics of archived songs like the Filipino band Hotdog’s “Manila”:
“Hinahanap-hanap kita Manila
Ang ingay mong kay sarap sa tenga
Mga jeepney mong nagliliparan...”
Will it just be part of one’s memory including perhaps the blossoming of friendships or romance, or the starting point of a life-changing experience?
On the other hand, will nostalgia be eclipsed by the new vehicles’ modern conveniences like free wi-fi, electronic payment system and handicap accessibility? Not to mention a cleaner air for everyone.
Are Filipinos ready to say ‘adieu’ to the jeepney?
Rene Astudillo is a writer, book author and blogger and has recently retired from more than two decades of nonprofit community work in the Bay Area. He spends his time between California and the Philippines.