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Young Blood

Jeepney rider

I grew up in Cagayan de Oro City and now live in Manila as part of the labor force. Thus, jeepneys are a common sight, and experience, for me.

I’ve been able to both enjoy and abhor other forms of transportation, like the habal-habal (motorcycles that death-defy the landscape of Baugon, Bukidnon, where my late father’s farm is located), provincial buses (the non-air-conditioned type that cooks you alive), ships (which we ride for our yearly summer visit to my mother’s hometown in Bohol), airplanes (I rode my first when I took the board exam in Manila), and trains (LRT-1’s Doroteo-Jose-to-Monumento). But now, riding the jeepney has become second nature.

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To get to various destinations, I use two-three hours of my day just sitting on the long seat, squeezed between strangers, sometimes dozing off or simply staring blankly at the void between me and the passing figures of the outside world. I think these and the fact that I have perfected the art of riding the jeepney make me a credible person to say that the seven-decade-old mean machine is a reflection of our country’s situation.

On one hand, we see the jeepney as a product of the Filipino’s ingenuity and resourcefulness in adapting it to our own needs. As it is not as bulky as the bus (which was introduced in the Philippines in 1914), the jeepney’s ability to carry at least 10 passengers that are quickly replaced by new ones are a buy-in fact for those who want to own one as a source of income. These humble wheels have fed millions of families and have put jeepney drivers’ children through school from kindergarten to college. Success stories of this sort are so abundant, and it’s an understatement that jeepneys have been an easy option for Filipino families as a resource provider.

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Jeepneys are also a common canvas of Filipino creativity. From miniature steel roosters and winged horses on the hood, funny yet close to insulting one-liners that are hand-painted on the ceiling, flying ribbons and colorful prints, to levers and strings that form a mechanism allowing the driver to know if somebody wants to alight, jeepneys have certainly evolved as a representation of our wit and artistry.

But on the other (heavier) hand, the jeepney also houses the undesirable Filipino traits that no matter how much we hide, will always be revealed, like a foul smell. Take the barker (or Manong Driver himself) who insists that one or two more passengers can still be accommodated before the jeepney leaves, ignoring the fact that the seated passengers are already feeling as though a boa constrictor has them in its deadly embrace. Greed.

Or the driver sneakily letting passengers board in areas that are prohibited, yet shouts angrily at those who want to alight: “Bawal po dito!” Double standards.

Or the driver who does not follow traffic signs, or even understands the purpose of pavement markings, yet cries foul when he becomes a victim of a road accident. Disrespect of the law.

Or the drivers who freak out about the proposed replacement of their ancient, barely breathing units with new ones. Illogic and false sentiment.

Demented drivers are not only those that defile the image of jeepneys. Passengers also play a huge part. Remember when you wanted to pass your fare to the next passenger, who ignores your already strained arm? Apathy. When passengers, who know that it is not a designated area to board a jeepney but insist on being there because “other people are also waiting,” and, worse, crowd one lane of the supposed traversable road? Selfishness.

When courtesy or even the idea of a line becomes irrelevant because “we all want to just go home already” even if others had been there first? Arrogance. When passengers, after consuming the contents of a high-sodium snack, throws away the wrapping while the jeepney is mobile? Irresponsibility.

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Oh, there’s one more. The Filipino jeepney rider’s favorite place on the seat is the one closest to the rear entry. This fact is so disturbingly true, so that an elderly passenger suffering aching joints has to go through the crouching and stooping while maintaining balance before reaching the seat seemingly at the far corner of the universe. It’s just so sad.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Our greatest problem is our attitude and behavior—not the issues that are presented in the media, but in those minutes (hours?) of riding a jeepney. It is so easy to rant to the world how we oppose impunity or corruption or drugs or martial law and all the highly publicized issues that can show one’s intelligence, school of thought and advocacy, but when we can easily neglect respect, courtesy and ethics in the most mundane activities, we fall short of walking the talk.

How can we progress when we turn a blind eye to the welfare of others? How can we be patriotic when simply helping a fellow passenger pass his/her fare is deemed such a heavy burden? And how can we speak of development and living the life that every Filipino truly deserves when we never experience the gruesome and numbing act of riding a jeepney (on a daily basis)?

Experts have shown us the numbers, yet still we fail to address the main disease. If I may suggest, let’s look at the jeepney from another perspective, so that the solutions to the daunting nightmare of the Philippines can be found, maybe, just maybe, in the subtle skin-to-skin interactions of Filipinos when riding one.

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Jumar G. Tablando, 26, is “a civil engineer and frustrated writer.”

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