The Philippine “Jeepney”

Nowhere else in the world can ingeniously innovated army jeeps be seen racing along inner roads and main highways except in the Philippines. The “jeepney,” a coined word in Philippine transportation jargon, means an army jeep in its civilian (not necessarily smaller) version. The jeepney, with its driver, is commonly referred today in Philippine transportation as the “King of the Road.”

It was first conceptualized after World War II when US army jeeps used in the war littered the war-torn streets of devastated Manila. After mapping and cleaning up operations the damaged army jeeps remained crowding up the city. The Americans were reluctant to take the huge junk back home so they left without the war relic with them. Philippine transport ingenuity came into the picture.

How could Filipinos re-use the metal scraps? The body was good and the motor was a bit salvageable. With a little imagination and tinkering skill, they came up with a demilitarized jeep they christened “Jeepney.” Furthermore, with a little art work and resourceful upholstery, the whole thing became transport-friendly and was soon test-run on the road.

The first jeepneys were short Philippine transport public vehicles with front and back seats. The back seats were lateral, making two rows of passengers facing each other. Only three persons per row could sit. The front seat accommodated three passengers, driver included. Later, these Philippine transport vehicles were embellished with waving bright colored ribbons, miniature metal models of horses or planes, toy wind mills, ribboned steering wheel and shift stick, and small mirrors and more hangings everywhere.

Much later the Philippine transport artists came in. They rendered the thing in full color, with liberal amounts of multi-colored stripes and arcs and curves, making it look like a Muslim vinta on the road. The jeepney’s ceiling was painted with rustic scenes of native huts and rice fields, coconut palms dancing in the wind. Right above the driver’s seat were painted names in wavy styles, often names of the driver’s wife and kids, or mistresses.

Today, the jeepney is a modernized 21-seater Philippine transport vehicle equipped with stereo components and loud speakers, push buttons, roving and fog lights, electric fans, tweeters, buzzers, and other fancy accessories for a hit-tech look. The driver even has a “co-pilot” beside him. Some jeepneys in Makati are even fully air conditioned.

Philippine transport has a superstar in the jeepney—this road king of a public vehicle ingeniously derived from a vintage US war jeep.

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