PUVs in the Philippines

[OPINION] Gov’t, jeepneys, and blindly following the logic of modernity

Melba Padilla Maggay

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[OPINION] Gov’t, jeepneys, and blindly following the logic of modernity
In trying to modernize, our transport authorities would do well to pay serious attention to what already works. We must see to it that the interest of the small people do not get sidelined in the rush towards unthinking modernity.

The transport strike staged by Piston and Manibela jeepney drivers and operators in April was not your usual protest against gas price and fare hikes. At stake is the single ownership of more than 90% of jeepneys today, which are being forced to consolidate into cooperatives under the public utility vehicle (PUV) modernization program.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board has declared that 76% have consolidated, but Elmer Francisco, second-generation maker of Francisco Motors, a pioneer in the manufacture of local jeepneys, says that many may have done so under duress.

Government insistence on consolidation, which requires at least 15 individual franchise holders to form one cooperative, would supposedly help operators to buy modern jeepneys through loans from financial institutions like the Development Bank of the Philippines or Land Bank of the Philippines. One modern jeepney, like the mini-buses now plying our roads, could cost up to ₱2.8 million.

But in an interview with Isip Isak, the online advocacy show of the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture, Francisco maintains that consolidation does not solve the financing. Cooperatives are known to be vulnerable to fractiousness, even corruption, as shown even now by the missing millions already loaned out.

Loans may not even be necessary, for operators can directly purchase from local manufacturers at a much lower price than those imported from abroad: “Ang mga inilalako nilang mga mini-bus na galing sa ibang bansa, abot ng mga dalawa hanggang tatlong milyon. Ang Francisco Motors jeepney po ay nine hundred eighty-five thousand lamang.”

(The mini-buses they are peddling from other countries could cost as much as P2 million to P3 million. A Francisco Motors jeepney only costs P985,000.)

“’Yung bagong jeepney po natin ay nakakatayo na sa loob ang pasahero. Hindi na yuyuko. Sa front side na yung pasukan. Tapos accessible din para sa mga PWD. May built-in ramp para sa wheel chair. Air-conditioned at mayrong CCTV cameras para sa security. At higit sa lahat makakalikasan. Dahil fully electric na po.”

(Our new jeepney model has enough space for standing passengers. No need for them to bend. The entrance is now on the side near the front. And its accessible to persons with disabilities because there’s a built-in ramp for wheelchairs. It’s air-conditioned and has CCTV cameras for security. Most of all, it’s environment because it’s fully electric.) (READ: Can we fully electrify jeepney fleets under the PUV modernization program?)

One wonders why foreign manufacturers are given preferential treatment when their mini-buses break down in only three years, compared to local jeepneys that are “built to last,” according to Francisco. Their jeepneys are still on the road even after 30 years or more, which puts to question the ruling that they should be phased out after 15 years.  

The bigger backdrop behind this issue is the obtuseness of authorities regarding culture and actual facts on the ground. 

Blindly following the logic of modernity, which presumes that size maximizes efficiency, they gloss over the fact that cooperativism in this country has been largely a failure. There is a very low level of social trust, given previous experiences of such cooperatives being unable to pay their bank loans because foreign-made buses prematurely break down, intentionally built for obsolescence. 

The notion that streets would be safer and the air would be purer if jeepneys were phased out is belied by a survey done in 2022 that only 2% of accidents can be accounted to jeepneys, in contrast to 52% accounted to private cars. Also, it was found that jeepneys contribute only 15% of the particulates that pollute the environment, as against the 55% emitted by cars.

Why then are the authorities not curtailing the use of cars, unlike Singapore, which slaps high taxes and makes acquiring a car three times more expensive?

The jeepney stands as an iconic symbol, not only of our culture, but also of the serious lack of political will on the part of government to develop an adequate and efficient mass transport system. 

After the Second World War, for lack of a mass transport system, engineers like George Francisco, father of Elmer, refashioned willy jeeps into what became jeepneys. Early on, it displayed the Filipino’s ingenuity and creativity. His uncle, Anastacio, was a painter and decorated the jeepneys with scenery like the Banaue Rice Terraces and Mayon Volcano.

“Lahat po ng mga magagandang tanawin ipininta niya. Kaya ’yung mga jeep na iniwan ng mga  Amerikano ay naging moving works of art.” (He painted all the beautiful sceneries. That was why the jeeps that the Americans left behind became moving works of art.)

Our so-called horror vacui can be seen in the colorful designs and lush decorativeness that adorn our jeepneys. It is said that no two jeepneys are exactly alike. 

Our religiosity is evident in stickers of the Sacred Heart pasted on windshields, or the rosary and St. Christopher hanging on the dashboard, even in the humorous pahiwatig: “God knows Hudas not pay.”  

In trying to modernize, our transport authorities would do well to pay serious attention to what already works. The social environment surrounding jeepneys provides informal employment to a host of drivers, barkers, small operators, mobile vendors, and vulcanizing and auto repair shops. Whatever else is put in place, we must see to it that the interest of the small people do not get sidelined in the rush towards unthinking modernity.

Innovation will only work when it is congruent with the culture and the informal system. In introducing  a new regime of rules on the road, we must find a way of preserving the accommodativeness that allows sabit, the generous inclusiveness of kalong when space is tight, and the trust and honor system in the relay of bayad as it travels and changes hands from passenger to the driver. – Rappler.com

Melba Padilla Maggay is president of the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture.

1 comment

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  1. ET

    If writer Melba P. Egay would allow me to add: “Whatever else is put in place, we must see to it that the interest of the small people do not get sidelined in the rush towards unthinking modernity ‘and uncontrolled greed.’”

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