MATTHEW RODRIGUEZ WRITES- Ever since the end of World War II, the jeepney has been the primary mode of public transportation for many Filipinos. It can trace its history back to the surplus Willy jeeps left behind by American soldiers. The surplus jeeps were then converted into transport vehicles. Drivers of the jeepneys then began to customize their cars, painting them and posting their routes on the sides.
This garnered strong social media amplification, with many tourists and locals posting their love for the vehicles that have become synonymous with the Philippines, especially in Manila. To compare, the jeepney is to Manila as the yellow cab is to New York City.
But it seems the jeepney era may end as the Philippine government decides to modernize the aging industry.
The Department of Transportation (DOTr.gov.ph)) said that its aim with the modernization program was to improve the quality of vehicles on the road. The DOTr plans to replace all jeepneys 15 years and older with electric-powered cars or Euro 4 compliant vehicles, which emit fewer greenhouse gases.
The new program has been criticized by many who say that the modernization program disproportionately affects the poor. This allegedly antiquated means of transportation is famous among Filipinos since it only costs eight Philippine pesos, or 16 cents.
“Piston has no problem with modernization because we consider ourselves progressive,” George San Mateo, a jeepney driver and the leader of the transport rights group Piston, said in an interview with NPR. “We are progressive, so we are not anti-development. But the problem with the modernization program…it is anti-poor and profit-oriented.”
The presidential spokesman, Harry Roque, responded by saying that it is not anti-poor and is trying to help the transport industry. “The Palace clarifies that the PUVMP (public utility vehicle modernization program) of the Duterte administration is not anti-poor, contrary to the claims of some transport groups,” he said in a statement.
“We assure Filipino jeepney drivers that this initiative of the government to improve our public transport sector will not put them out of business,” Roque assured the public.
These kind words said by Roque would ease many of the jeepney drivers’ fears of being replaced, if it weren’t for what President Rodrigo Duterte said in a speech. “You’re poor?” said Duterte. “Son of a bitch, suffer hardship and hunger, I don’t care.”