Memoirs of the Dying Jeep
They say the best way to get to know a person is to walk a mile in their shoes. If so, would taking the local transportation be the best way to get to know the people of a nation? The jeepney is an undeniable symbol of Philippine culture, but what exactly is so Filipino about it? With recent talks about changing the mode of mass transportation, what does the future hold for this possibly dying icon?
The jeepney has its origins from Willys jeeps which was left behind by American troops after World War II. Filipinos then remodeled these jeeps by adding a metal roof, placing two benches facing each other to accommodate more passengers, adorned with frills, tassels, and a bright paint job. One may view this as that Filipino “tradition” of putting a positive spin on things and making the most out of a bad situation. However, there are those who view this “tradition” as delusional because it connotes consuming and repackaging foreign products as a good idea.
For post-war Philippines, it was the best thing that happened to public transportation. It seemed innnovative and creative until people realized that it no long was. Eventually, it revealed at least two Filipino tendencies: instant gratification instead of long term planning and mediocrity.Moreover, modern jeepney drivers have developed a very questionable notion of a “full” jeepney. “Full,” being seeing the last passenger struggling with half a butt cheek on the seat and the kapyut who holds on dearly for his life. The jeepney seems to have lost its purpose.
But despite all these lapses, the jeepney is a cultural icon that offers an experience as colorful as its passengers. There are recurring characters such as the Man-Who-Plays-His-Music-Out-Loud through the speakers of a cell phone who thinks he is doing a great service to the community and is totally unaware of the co-passengers grinding their teeth from annoyance. We also have No-Pugong-Girl! The woman who offers her hair as a snack, And of course, not forgetting, Incessantly-Smoking-Man whose name says it all! This man seems to forget what space is all about as he blows on smoke and increases the risk of already unhealthy lungs.
Manong Driver does not alleviate the situation. He just stops and picks up passengers at almost any point along the streets; condoning bad behavior that we as the Filipinos have conditioned to think is okay. But wait! Remember Half-A-Butt-Cheek-Passenger we were talking about earlier? He or she might have fallen for the deceptive persuasion of the jeepney barker or as we popularly know him as: Manong Konduktor. Manong Konduktor is the behind-the-scenes puppet master directing where everyone sits and who insists that ManongDriver wait for just a few more minutes (more like 30!) because a passenger is on their way. Fortunately, there is also the equal opportunity to see the more likeable characters. When the Half-A-Butt-Cheek passenger has finally given up, we come in contact with another character: The Martyt. The Martyr is the passenger who gives up the comfortable sitting position in order to give others more room. This passenger is a fine example of sacrifice for the greater good.
But look further and you see a reflection of our society. Between the driver and the jeepney barker, who holds control? Is it the driver at the front, the first person everyone sees holding the steering wheel or the persuasive loud mouthed clinger at the handle bars at the end, holding the money? Does this scene seem familiar to you? Does it remind you of those who are “in control” easily influenced by those with the louder voice? What about The martyr and The Half-A-Butt-Cheek passenger? Does it not remind you of the adage:
“Everyone deserves a little kindness and consideration, and everyone could use to give out a little more?” Witnessing a small gesture of genuine kindness is enough to let one know not everything is hopeless.
This reflection is what truly makes the jeepney so iconic. It has been so embedded in our lifestyle that this icon is immediately associated with Filipino lifestyle and Filipino attitude. It is one of the most basic shared experiences the citizens of this nation have. The jeepney provides a temporary family in the physique of passengers united through a singular and common experience of passing money, passing messages to the driver, and offering seats. We may not go as far as first name bases but the experience is enough to tell us that there’s not much difference at all.
Indeed, the simple jeepney carries with it more than just people. It carries the shared history of a people but it seems that modernization has finally caught up with this rehashed relic of war. There have been ongoing talks of trains and buses that would soon replace these jeeps and cities of the nation’s capital already have trains and buses. And now, eyes have been set on Cebu. The Cebu City government and other bodies are to put up the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Do not worry. These aren’t going to be like the metal death traps of Manila. The Cebu City Government has done their homework. They have had feasibility studies and consultations with international cooperatives, and a proof of concept by doing a test run.
If the proposed project project does push through , will this be the beginning of the eventual demise of the jeepney? Is it finally time to say goodbye and lay this old veteran to rest and remain a memory? Or will there be new ways to integrate it in a more modern and efficient manner to fit the needs of the growing populace? Whatever happens, the Filipino creativity will always find its way to day-to-day living, and the jeepney will always have a special place in culture. The best thing to do is to be in it for the ride.