The ubiquitous jeepney is an American hand-me-down straight from World War II. The Americans left behind these Willys and the enterprising Filipino adopted it as a form of mass transport but not before giving it a new burst of life through decorative and often flamboyant decorations and designs. It is a Filipino postcard of how it is to live in the Philippines.
Once considered a symbol of Filipino ingenuity, creativity and innovation, in recent years, this icon of Filipino life has been tarnished, bullied and victimized almost to oblivion but despite all the pressure, it has remained the transportation of choice of the working class. The demand for the jeepney once spawned the birth of an industry that produced jeepneys from scratch, an industry that is almost at its death-bed today as only the original makers, Sarao Motors remains open, although barely.
Most jeepneys you see in the busy streets of the metro cannot be called symbols of Filipino creativity and ingenuity, if we are to be honest. Riding through the heavily-polluted streets while sitting in the cramped and hot space inside these mostly forlorn-looking and unyielding metal shells of galvanized sheets cannot be termed in the least bit enjoyable. Yet travel brochures of the Philippines often announce it as an essential part of the Philippine adventure.
But riding a jeepney can be an experience beginning with the barker calling out endlessly to passersby to the inevitable chant of para which signals the driver that a commuter has reached his destination. Then there are the decorations, lots of them from witty signs such as “God knows Judas not pay” to the aluminum horses atop their hoods. Foreigners are mesmerized by these unique attractions where the owners’ character is often reflected and translated into the designs that adorn this wonderfully colorful vehicle. From the busy streets of the modern metro to the often dusty tracks of the far-flung towns, the jeepney still reigns supreme as the ultimate Filipino mode of transport.
As a tribute to this icon of Filipino living, the Philippines’ Department of Tourism in partnership with various government agencies, transport groups and private organizations held a Jeepney Arts Festival in September of last year. An On-the-Spot Jeepney Painting Contest happened at the SM Mall of Asia for four days where some 50 jeepneys were painted with images that showcased the Filipino spirit and creative excellence as well as travel destinations in the country. Especially decorated and built jeepneys are now being used by tour groups to transport tourists through the streets of the metropolis and are equipped with comfortable and air-conditioned interiors. One thing is perfectly clear – whatever the design, color or condition, the jeepney is here to celebrate what is truly and uniquely Filipino. It remains the King of the Road.