Sad plan to kill cultural icon
The plan of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board to phase out jeeps is a sad development. Jeeps are a cultural icon of our country.
From the original World War II utility vehicle of US military forces in the Philippines, the jeep has evolved into a colorful public transport vehicle. The body is now painted with fiesta-like, geometric patterns—much like the forms and colors in Muslim art. Newer designs have sprouted with the advent of spray paint and sticker art.
Perhaps as a tribute to the jeeps’ kalesa predecessor, many are decorated with a silvery horse molding placed at the center-front hood. Some parts of the body are accentuated with relief-sculptured stainless tin, like those that decorate the kalesa. Nonetheless, there are always the spaces for colors.
Jeeps have also been used as sounding boards by creative owners and drivers. The front metal sun shades are usually adorned with the ornate lettering of the owners’ name (or of those close to them). Mudguards would have signs like “Katas ng Saudi,” meaning, a particular jeep was bought with the owner’s savings from working in Saudi Arabia. At the back of front seats would hang “Bayad muna bago ‘text’” or “God knows Hudas not pay,” signs to remind passengers of their fare. Some signs are folksy proverbs like, “Basta tsismosa, inggitera,” or even proverbial like, “Ano man ang ganda mo, driver lang ang katapat mo.”
The jeep is not only a visual cultural icon; it also reflects a value system. As a means of public transportation, it survives through honesty. Passengers voluntarily pay their fares, perhaps because they feel that it is to their interest that there are jeeps that give them the service they need—a cheap and convenient way of getting to their destination.
There is, too, a sense of community in the jeep system. If one does not have enough money to pay, the passenger can talk to the driver about the circumstances, and the driver accedes. (Understanding the situation or grudgingly, the driver does accede.) And money for fare is passed on from one passenger to another until it reaches the one-man operator—the driver/conductor. The change reaches the passenger in the same way—vice versa.
Of course, there are nightmarish jeepney-ride experiences, but the point here is that the jeep system has survived because of the positive values of our people.
Technologically, the jeep has developed tremendously to adjust to the needs of the times. The body has been stretched to accommodate more passengers and baggage. The roof support is strengthened to hold weight—be they passengers, produce, baggage or even displays for fiestas. Its under chassis has been designed to withstand rough roads and traverse through high floodwaters.
The present jeeps have undergone massive innovation. The machines and some parts may be imported, but the handiwork is done by local workers. Jeeps are cheaper and more economical to maintain than imported utility vehicles. This advantage makes it a favorite of small- and medium-scale Filipino entrepreneurs. Local jeep makers thrive on this demand.
It is unfair to call jeeps an “inefficient” mode of public transportation. If the issue is about smoke-belching, then penalize the operators. There are laws pertaining to this anyway. If the issue is old motor, that should not be a problem if it is still efficient. No driver (even of private cars) would want his/her vehicle to stall in the middle of the road because government-accredited tow trucks abound, and it will cost a lot of time and money to recover from the arresting agencies. If the issue is traffic, why then is there so much traffic on Edsa even when jeeps are not allowed there? If the issue is “discipline,” then that goes for all drivers, pedestrians and traffic implementers.
The issue regarding jeep phaseout is that it will render jeep drivers jobless. More importantly, it will also negatively affect the jeep manufacturing industry. Small as it may be, it can be the start of our own vehicle industry.
The problem is that proponents of neoliberalism want to “modernize,” thus recommend the junking of jeeps to give way to “more advanced” all-imported models. To be sure, there are better ways of confronting the transportation problem other than satisfying the sales figures of foreign vehicle companies.
The jeep system has served us for several decades and is serving us well. Junking it should be out of the question. The jeep is Filipino, in and out.
JULIE L. PO, Linangan ng Kulturang Pilipino, [email protected]
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