Who is the king of the Filipino road? The answer is simple: the jeepney. This famous mode of transportation was created after World War II, from the old Willys Jeep. We Filipinos, being so creative, decided that it would be a waste to throw these used vehicles away, so we remodeled them, fashioned them according to our tastes, and out came the jeepney in all its glory and borloloys. From something that was used during tough war years, we managed to create something practical for peaceful times.
Today, the jeepney is the most common means of public conveyance. Altough it is a symbol of the Filipino’s creativity and adaptability, it is also a symbol of rudeness and boorishness. Look left and you see a jeepney disgorging its passengers in the middle of the street. Look right and you see a jeepney beating the redlight. It is undeniable that the jeepney is a big contributor to the worsening traffic situation in the metropolis, and for this reason, there have been a lot of government efforts to get jeepneys off the road, or at least reduce their numbers.
But nobody can really trash the jeepney. It is part of the Filipino heritage, and to the common-folk, an indispensable element of everyday living. Filipinos don’t walk. Filipinos ride. Everybody needs the jeepney to get places.
And so it’s 5:30 am. You wake up, do your morning rituals and leave the house after a cup of coffee. You don’t have a car; what do you do? You don’t want a taxi. The thirty-peso flag-down rate and two pesos and fifty centavos per kilometer will surely strain your budget.
You opt for the good old Pinoy public transport and walk to the jeepney’s sakayan. It is nearly full, and so you end up crouching your way through the narrow aisle, up front, a passenger away from the driver’s seat. In an eighteen-seater where each side sits nine, that’s a long way indeed.
A man outside who seems to have forgotten to take a shower shouts at the top of his raspy voice, “O! Dalawa pa! Dalawa pa! Kabilaan ho yan! Konting kembot lang po. Dalawa pa. Aaaa – UP, UP, UPUPUPUPUPUPUPUPUP! (O! Two more! Two more! One on each side! Just move your hips a little. Two more. Aaaa – UP, UP, UPUPUPUPUPUPUPUPUP!)”
While you wonder how you will manage to give space for another two, a woman boards with a large palanggana of tilapia, probably to be transported to the nearby talipapa.
The magnificent odor of wet fish fills your senses.
After the last passenger boards, and two men content themselves with sabit, the driver hands a few coins to the man who had forgotten to shower and the jeepney pulls away.
As you speed over the uneven pavement, the driver turns on the radio, and loud dance music assaults the entire vehicle. You wince. The bass is pounding like hell, and you feel your heart thumping so hard it’s about to jump out of your rib cage. The beginnings of a migraine throb at your temples.
You don’t feel like paying this deaf freak at the wheel, but being the good citizen that you are, you do. You sigh and pick out seven pesos from your purse.
“Bayad po,” you say and watch as the coins travel from one hand to another until they reach the driver.
You receive the fare of the guy two seats beside you and pass it on.
Pass it on.
You find it queer how all their fares always manage to end up with you. Your arms start to get weary because of the relay of coins and bills. Finally, to your relief, everyone is paid. You settle back in you cramped space and breathe in the polluted air of Tandang Sora. That and the odor of the man sitting beside you whose arm is raised to the bar above him. You realize that by the time you reach your destination, you may be dead of suffocation.
You heave a long, slow sigh, stopping the urge to sneeze. It isn’t even 10:00am and you’re already feeling tired and itchy. You now begin to regret and wonder why you didn’t just take a cab.
Little do you know that you’re about to realize why.
Twenty minutes through the trip and the jeepney is still cramped. You feel like you are all sardines in an unopened can, until finally, finally, one of the passengers calls out, “Para.”
The vehicle stops in the middle of the road. To your great rejoicing, the woman with the palanggana of fish alights. One of the two men who are hanging from the rear makes a move to occupy the recently emptied spot, when an old woman comes walking towards the jeepney.
“O, paraanin niyo si Lola (O, give way to Granny),” you hear the driver say.
The passengers hurry to give her space. The two men move out of the way, one completely junking the idea of sitting down. Instead, he offers his place to Lola.
You smile. Well then, you think that we Filipinos are not hopeless, after all.
“Bayad po,” comes the creaky voice of the old woman.
You give her a warm smile and you reach out to take her fare, the weariness of your arm gone. Now you are in the mood to take everybody’s payment. You realize that it gives you a sense of well-being.
After seeing such display of kindness, you come to the conclusion that though the jeepney is oftentimes uncomfortable, it brings out the best in Filipinos. Within that little space you become witness to our culture’s respect for the elderly. There, you feel the old bayanihan virtue in the passing of fares. There, you experience trust and honesty, knowing that your money will reach the driver in spite of changing hands.
In the jeepney, nobody cares who you are. There are no class distinctions. It’s just you, the other passengers, the driver, and an old vehicle. You meet a lot of courteous people who assist you when you board and disembark. These are the people who don’t mind when you fall asleep beside them and your head lolls on their shoulders. They just give you a tap to wake you up, and smile when you apologize.
Then you realize that the jeepney is one of the best things that happened to the Philippines. Forget politics, forget economics – you have your jeepney. You know that for as long as you have it, the Filipino spirit will live on.
You start to enjoy your trip. The smelly man beside you even puts his arm down. Surprisingly, your headache lessens. You breathe in the polluted air of Metro Manila, caring less about dying from suffocation or asthma. You have learned something new and valuable today. You aren’t hailing a taxi or buying a car anytime soon. You are going to ride the jeepney, and you are going to ride it until kingdom come.