THE GREAT ICON OF THE PHILIPPINES: THE JEEPNEYS
My dear friend! It is my pleasure to say you hello from the beautiful Manila, in the Philippines. This is a great country, with really nice people with a great cultural footprint – Spanish, Mexican, American and Japanese, with a great potential of growth. In today´s article, I would like to show you part of its cultural footprint, reflected in the automotive industry! Here we go!
The Philippines, officially the Republic of the Philippines is the 34th largest economy by nominal GDP in the world – the 13th largest economy in Asia. To give a bit of background, before becoming a Republic, Colonialism created the Philippines, shaped its political culture and continues to influence its mindset. The nearly 400 years under Spanish and over 4 decades under the U.S. decisively changed the nation, since their thinking, culture, and psychology became more westernized, even if they are Asians.
The Jeepneys or yipnis – dyipni in Filipino, the passenger trucks are the most popular public transport in the Philippines. What´s the reason of the Jeepneys name? Undoubtedly World War II left a lot of footprints around the world and the Philippines Government did not create any mass transport system afterward. Then, the Filipinos decided to use the parts of a surplus of Willys and Ford Jeeps left behind by American troops to create the Jeepneys, able to carry 20-25 people at once.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE JEEPNEYS
In order to transport the passengers, industrious Filipinos took the old military jeeps, extended the side rails in two meters, painted them into colorful themes and added ornaments, as well as engines and other parts coming from its neighbor, Japan. Below you will find a 1943 Willys Jeep, the basis for the design of Jeepneys.
Having said that, Ed Sarao – Ed Sarao Motors – one of the first makers of Jeepneys and the undisputed leader says: “There is a bit of Spanish, Mexican traits there, how they incorporate vivid colors, fiesta-like feelings. There is a little of the Americans because it evolved from the Jeep. There is a little of Japan because of the Japanese engine, nonetheless, it was built by Filipino hands”. Ed Sarao says proudly that Jeepneys are the “Kings of the Road, the blood of the city, they circulate and go everywhere, they transport people and goods and there is interaction inside the vehicle. Maybe you will meet your future wife or husband in one Jeepney, who knows.”
Regarding the engine’s supply, refurbished Isuzu 4-cylinder diesel engines with 3.3 liters of displacement are used in the Jeepneys, delivering between 68-80 hp to the rear wheels with a 5 gears manual transmission. The colorful decoration and ornamentation are another one of the most specific characteristics of the Jeepneys, becoming street arts on wheels and whose cost can get up to 2,000€ for this great job. Normally, thematic is quite broad: driver´s interests, religion topics, family, women, animals, among others.
Studies have shown that jeepneys are the most popular and dominant mode of public transport (Karl B. N. Vergel – University of the Philippines Diliman), having millions of loyal passengers every day, due to its low cost, convenience and short time. Approximately speaking, there are around 250,000 jeepneys in Manila – being franchised in 75%.
DISCUSSION WITH THE JEEPNEYS DRIVERS
Given my interest in this distinctive transport, I got involved in conversations with some of the local drivers and seemingly were very upset with the current situation between the Government and the Jeepneys. Jeepneys are often blamed for heavy traffic congestion and indiscriminate stopping, besides current safety features, without A/C and accused to be big polluters. Drivers claimed that the Government of the Philippines is phasing out its iconic Jeepneys with a non-realistic plan which aims at replacing them by more eco-friendly versions by 2020.
Truth be said that Government must watch the pollution in the Philippines and especially Manila, as one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world with more than 12 million inhabitants. Nevertheless, Government blames Jeepneys to be responsible for an important part of the total particulate matter emissions in Manila, which may not be fair since there are a lot of old engines as well.
The plan to phase out the current icon of the Philippines with an eco-friendlier model seems attractive: modern electric vehicles, less-polluting, with A/C and safety features. A first glance, this plan seems to be ideal and the right solution for the environmental problems in the country, but the question is: is the Philippines as a country, the drivers and the commuters ready to embrace such a plan of change? If we made a real assessment of the cost of current Jeepneys – 10,000-12,000€ vs. a newer eco-friendly model of 35,000€ and considering the economic situation of the jeepney drivers, who make around 10-€ for two days of work, it is almost impossible for them to renovate their fleets and achieve the Plan. Drivers are aware of the pollution issues in the country and would like to support the environment with newer vehicles, but it turns out not feasible given such a big initial outlay and without important Government support. It is emphasized that they are not resistant to change, but supporters with an achievable and realistic plan for the transition.
Filipinos passengers can easily get around in a Jeepney at a very cheap price, 8 pesos (approx. 0.14€/trip). Considering that usual Jeepney passengers are minimum-wage earners and their sons and daughters, the phase-out of the current local transport might not just affect the drivers with a big initial outlay, a higher cost to run and maintenance, but also this will be passed to commuters who will see increases on fares.
WHAT ARE THE FILIPINOS DOING TO FIGHT AGAINST IT?
The Filipinos are pure fighters and of course, they are not keeping quiet but defending their interests against the Government. Fighting this plan, the most famous movement is headed by the group PISTON, a unified nationwide organization of drivers and operators. His Leader, San Mateo, 51 has been driving Jeepneys for almost 3 decades.
The leader of the organization mentions that this modernization program is not the solution, in view of its anti-poor and profit-oriented approach, instead of using a problem-solving one. Again, they are aware of the environmental concerns and the closer and closer future use of more eco-friendly vehicles, but despite a fast-growing economy as the Philippines is, millions of Filipinos, unfortunately, remain below the poverty line. That being said, current economic conditions do not allow either driver to spend around 30,000€ in a new vehicle, nor passengers to spend from 2-3 times more on fares.
The PISTON organization has already organized some transportation strikes in Metro Manila and key cities throughout the country, in response to the disagreement of this Government plan.
For the time being, it seems difficult to implement such an ambitious program in the Philippines due to the big amount of Jeepneys in the country. Therefore, a middle ground solution might start with the implementation of the program in selected cities instead, as a tryout.
Truth be said that I felt very surprised the first time I saw the Jeepneys, such a special transport mode! I feel a lot of respect for the Philippines, purely devastated after the World War II, how they thought about using the old military Jeeps left by the American troops and came up with the idea of creating such an original mode of transport for their country, given that Government did not provide. How they reflected their large cultural footprint and own interest through art on wheels. To wrap up, it seems these icons will disappear, sooner rather than later, to bring the newer eco-friendly models:
What do you think about the plan proposed by the Government given the current economic conditions of the country, drivers and passengers?
This is all for today, I hope you have enjoyed today´s article about Jeepneys, the amazing and distinctive icon of the Philippines. Please, as always, it would be a great pleasure to hear from your comments, opinions, questions and/or any other suggestion you would like to make. Looking forward to hearing from your answers soon! 😊