I don’t remember where I saw it, but I remember reading an insightful commentary on the jeepney as a symbol of the Philippines. I’m not sure I can do it justice, but I will attempt to repeat the gist of it here. The article talked about the origins of the jeepney, jeeps inherited by Filipinos who, after the second world war, turned the beat-up abandoned military vehicles into something useful and unique. Today the jeepney is essentially still a pile of old metal, often in bad need of repair, and held together with string and a prayer. But with a touch of Filipino flair, some colorful embellishments and a healthy dash of optimism, the jeepney appears so much more than the sum of its parts. Like Filipinos themselves, they make up for lack of substance with ingenuity, optimism and good humour.
And, yes, buses and metros are usually much more effective methods of transport. Jeepneys clog the streets, carry limited numbers, and belch out polluting smoke into the already choking atmosphere. However, the metro here is woefully inadequate for such a large city. I’ve yet to have a reason to use it. Jeepneys, by contrast, are everywhere in Manila, in the provinces and on the islands. Each one is unique and emblazoned with a personal message….anything from a bible quote to “Elvis is King”… expressing the owner’s faith, hopes or world view.
They are all individually owned. Routes are hand-painted on the side of the vehicle. Passengers embark or disembark at will…there are no official stops. Fares are cheap. From a tourist perspective, they don’t offer much to see. The small windows and inward-facing seats mean that it is difficult to see out. They only hold about 20 (small) people at a maximum, but there always seems to be room for one more as the fares go straight to the owner-operator driver. Yet they are the most colorful and attractive thing on most streets and I never tire of looking for my next favourite, really cool one.
Here’s a little humour on how to ride one around the city: