A look back at the Philippine Jeepney, before phasing them out - "Jingle Lang Ang Pahinga"

Monday October 23, 2017 ()

It began as a makeshift vehicle put together from spare parts of the military service "jeep" left by American troops who left the Philippines after the end of World War II in 1945. Because the jeeps were too expensive to ship back to the United States, the American military authorities disposed of them locally by selling those in poor running condition, and giving away those engines of which have seen better times.

Enterprising Filipinos took the jeeps, overhauled their engines, painted them in a range of colors, and converted them to limited space transportation vehicles. Since there was an acute shortage in public transportation in Manila and its suburbs during the months following the end of the war, local commuters welcomed the makeshift vehicles as temporary solutions to the public transportation problem.

Philippine Jeepney
(The Philippine Jeepney)

Alas! What was meant to be a temporary remedy became more or less a permanent one. The early individual manufacturers of the converted jeeps were replaced by a cottage industry that manufactured sturdier models with bodies made from galvanized iron sheets, roofs made from army surplus canvas, windshields from scrap safety glass taken from abandoned cars, and second hand diesel engines from junk shops.

An innovation was introduced—the passenger entrance was located at the rear of the vehicle.

The jeep had limited seating capacity—four at the back, and one in the front.

A passenger can also take the front seat beside the driver, unless the wife of the driver happens to be riding beside her husband, or more specifically, keeping a watchful eye on him. When she’s on board, she takes over the driver’s task of collecting passenger fares. More often than not, she holds on to the box containing the money.

Since a jeepney driver is a daily wage earner, the driver turns over his days’ earnings to his wife, leaving nothing for the morrow, not even coins for change. As a result, one would often see a sign prominently displayed inside the jeepney with the phrase "barya lang po sa umaga" [pay your fare in coins].

Even as these converted jeeps were somehow already getting "mass produced," each one was still individually painted, with no two vehicles painted alike. The traditional paint job was eventually accompanied by tacky decorations ranging from feathers to plastic triangular ornaments, to animal-shaped hood ornaments made from coated aluminum.

Small metal signboards the size of a pencil box, which indicate the route taken by the vehicles, were displayed on the windshield, wedged between the inside of the windshield and what appears to be its weather strip.

On rainy days and nights, a long translucent roll of industrial grade plastic mounted at the top of both sides of the jeep are untied and rolled down to serve as protective curtains. There was nothing to cover the rear entrance, though. Only one side of the windshield, the one infront of the driver, had a windshield wiper.

A sort of dashboard can be seen in most jeeps, although the speedometer was more of a decoration than anything else, and the driver measured his fuel supply by inserting a long stick into the fuel tank beside him. Depending on how high the wet mark on the stick is located, the driver is able to calculate when he needs to gas up.

By the 1950s, the jeeps were called "auto-calesas" and they carried license plates bearing the letters "AC" on them. Despite their exposure to dust and street dirt, the auto-calesas were generally tidy inside and outside.

The 1960s saw assembly lines producing bigger versions of the auto-calesa, and these expanded versions were officially called "public utility jeepneys" as seen in their license plates indicating the letters "PUJ"for all to see. These larger versions could accommodate ten passengers at the back, and two in front.

During rush hours, many jeepney drivers allowed passengers to hang on to a handrail at the rear of the jeepney and stand at the entrance steps of the vehicle while the jeep is in motion. These passengers, referred to as "sabit" [attachment], were still required to pay the full fare.

Sarao Motors was the leading assembly plant of jeepneys in the 1960s and the 1970s. Later on, stiff competition came from a company called Mel-Ford, which operated an assembly plant northeast of Manila.

In time, these PUJs were simply called "jeepneys" or "jeeps," an obvious derivative from the American military jeepney.

Although the 1960s jeepney no longer retained the original features of its predecessor, its radiator grill still looked like the one found in its old. mechanical ancestor.

When the jeepney is to be used by its owner or driver for a private family trip or similar journey, a small, metal door is affixed to the rear entrance of the jeepney and kept closed. The door is about two feet high. Painted on the door are the words "private" and the name of the family which owns the jeepney. It was widely believed that displaying the family name anywhere on the jeep discouraged married jeepney drivers from flirting with women.

Prior to the martial law era, the jeepney competed with public utility buses, taxicabs, tricycles, and even calesas, for passengers.

The monetary aspect of the jeepney business is quite simple. An investor buys a jeepney. After he obtains a franchise from the government transportation office, he becomes an "operator." A driver is designated to drive the jeepney for a specified number of hours. At the end of the day’s driving, the driver pays the operator a fixed sum of money called a "boundary."

Expenses for fuel are for the account of the driver. A barker at a predesignated jeepney stands coax passengers to board the jeepneys, which wait for their turn in a line. The barker is paid the equivalent of a passenger’s full fare for each filled jeepney he dispatches.

Corrupt policemen near jeepney stands often demand a percentage of the total fares collected in every trip. Other crooked street cops accost the jeepney driver for real or imaginary infractions of traffic rules, and extort money from them, called "tong."

Jeepneys operating with no valid franchise are called "colorum." Their drivers pay a regular bribe to the cops to avoid apprehension.

In the early 1960s, the multi-colored jeepney became a symbol to promote tourism in the Philippines. Even the now-defunct Hotel Intercontinental Manila in Makati had a "Jeepney Coffee Shop" which had a facsimile of a jeepney inside its premises.

There was daily newspaper comic strip called "Gorio and his Jeepney," and it had a full-color version in the Sunday edition of the same newspaper. It also became a TV program featuring local comedian Chiquito.

The quaint image of the jeepney began deteriorating in the 1960s when jeepney drivers and operators in the metropolis organized protests against fuel price hikes. "Pasang Masda" was notorious for jeepney strikes which caused a lot of inconvenience to office employees and students.

It was the proclamation of martial law in September 1972 which ended the jeepney strikes.

By the middle of the 1970s, radio sets became commonplace in every jeepney. The "music" was often irritating because of the poor quality speakers, which were located under the passenger seats.

New jeepneys no longer used metal signs displayed on the windshield to announce their route. The route had to be written in paint under the windshield, and on each side of the vehicle, to discourage trip-cutting.

It was also during the 1970s when amusing sayings started appearing inside the available visible space inside the jeepneys. These signs include "God knows Judas not pay," "Binata pa po ang driver, jingle lang ang pahinga" and "Basta driver, great lover."

After Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. was assassinated in August 1983, many jeepneys displayed political stickers supporting the political opposition. Months after the incompetent President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino seized power in 1986, jeepneys displayed protest stickers like "Edsa ­—the Boulevard of Broken Dreams."

At the height of the strongman administration of President Ferdinand Marcos from September 1972 to August 1983, there were no jeepney strikes in the country. Strikes in sectors affected with public interest, which included public transportation, were declared illegal. Jeepney and bus operators who allowed their drivers to go on strike risked losing their franchises.

To discourage jeepney strikes, the Marcos administration created the Metro Manila Transit Corporation, which operated hundreds of Hino regular passenger buses imported from Japan. The MMTC buses were painted in royal blue hue and were clean and comfortable. They plied the major routes in the National Capital Region. These buses were the first to use florescent lights. Other buses used incandescent bulbs.

Upon the urging of First Lady Imelda Marcos, the MMTC introduced air-conditioned passenger buses on bus routes in the metropolis in 1975. Each bus was called a "Love Bus." Commuters preferred those buses to the jeepneys.

Although the MMTC buses had specific routes, any part of the fleet could be redirected to any route anytime to address any serious shortage in public transportation.

If the MMTC buses were not enough, military buses and trucks were always on call to ferry stranded passengers.

By the turn of the twenty-first century, jeepney drivers in Metropolitan Manila and in other urban centers in the country had become nefarious. Today’s jeepney drivers are rude and inconsiderate to other motorists. They violate traffic regulations with impunity, travel at breakneck speed, shorten their routes without justification, and even shortchange many of their passengers. Many of them smoke while they are driving.

Most jeepney drivers keep rocks near their gas pedals which they hurl at motorists they quarrel with. Those who are able to drive continuously for several hours without resting are evidently into prohibited drugs. There are many jeepney drivers who do not have the requisite license to drive.

Most jeepneys are not properly maintained, so they belch thick smoke that causes respiratory diseases and pollutes the environment. Many run on worn-out tires, thus making them safety hazards, especially on rainy days when the roads are slippery. Most jeepneys do not have functioning brake lights. This makes them road hazards since they make indiscriminate stops anywhere their drivers want to.

There are jeepneys who do not use their headlights at night to save on battery power, and on the stupid assumption that because they can see other motorists, other motorists can see them.

Reckless jeepney drivers involved in a road collision say that they are just trying to make a living. How and why their making a living excuses them from complying with traffic and safety regulations is a mystery.

Because jeepney operators and drivers do not carry insurance, they are unable to compensate any of their passengers who may get hurt or even die during a road collision or violent accident. That’s a clear violation of the law governing public transportation.

Jeepneys are not practical means of public transportation because the road space occupied by two jeepneys is enough for a regular bus, which can accommodate a lot more passengers than the two jeepneys combined can. The void arising from a jeepney phase out can be filled by replacing the jeepneys with buses or similar bigger, more practical vehicles.

Displaced jeepney drivers will have to seek other employment. It’s about time that public safety should not take a back seat to the employment of reckless, abusive jeepney drivers.

Each time the government attempts to phase out the jeepney, operators and drivers go on strike to paralyze the nation. That’s akin to making the government a hostage! Sadly, past administrations had no political will to phase out the jeepney.


  • Before the jeepney is phased out, part 1 and 2, Victor Avecilla, October 21, 2017, Manila Standard

(This article is adapted from the source listed above. We are unable to grant permission for any kind of reproduction other than social media shares.)


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