Photo by Abigail Amon

Kings of the Road: How Jeepneys can Boost Tourism in Iloilo

By vernan jagunap

One of the issues that dominated the news recently was the modernization of jeepneys. The new jeepneys will be equipped with CCTV cameras, GPS, and automated fare collection or beep cards; and only two types of jeepneys will be allowed–the electric and the Euro-4 compliant jeepneys–to comply with the Clean Air Act. However, upon seeing these modern prototypes on TV, my initial reaction was, “Those vehicles are not jeepneys. They are coasters disguised as jeepneys!”

Coasters are fine. They are beautiful vehicles, and they can transport passengers safely (making sure that they fit on a typical Philippine lane, on the other hand, is another matter). However, a jeepney has a distinctive design that makes it…. well, a jeepney. When a foreigner sees a jeepney, or even just a miniature version of it, he or she immediately recognizes it as THE Philippine mode of transportation. It is like a signifier of our Filipino identity, similar to how we use the barong or the baro-at-saya, if you will.

I am not against this modernization. However, I am concerned that we are throwing away this part of our identity away for its sake. In this vein, I am proposing that, at the least, a city would retain jeepneys as a mode of public transportation, even for just a single route.

Why so? Well, it’s it is because the jeepney—which is pretty much ubiquitous in any city in the country—is Filipino. And there’s there is a reason why we need to preserve them: tourism.

Why Tourism?

The Iloilo Provincial Government created a new Provincial Capitol building, but they did not demolish the old one; Instead, they rehabilitated it into a multi-functioning Casa Real.  A new Provincial Jail was also built, but the old one was not demolished; Instead, it was repaired and will now host the National Museum for the first time in the city’s history. On that note, the old Jaro Municipal Hall was also repaired and will be made into its satellite office.

There is a point to be made here: old buildings—specifically, old things and relics—tell stories behind specific periods in our history. And I argue the same can also be said of the jeepney.

If our goal is to make Iloilo City into a heritage town, then let us make the jeepney into a living historical exhibit. In three years, the government aims to replace the old designs, so it’ is safe to assume that the traditional Philippine jeepney’s survival is critically endangered. As a sanctuary for those old jeepney designs, Iloilo will have another feature to lure attract tourists. It might be even better than a festival because it is an attraction that would be available all-year round.

What should we retain?

A couple of factors that contribute to the jeepney’s advantage is its unique look and comfortable design. Retaining the jeepneys’ Sarao and FMC designs or their variations that dominated the Molo district route during the 1990s will be good since we can tell tourists specific stories of our heritage. But we should also show how the jeepneys evolved through the years, so keeping the latter-era designs like the boxed-type and the cimarron will also be valuable.

On the other hand, Iloilo’s jeepney designs have always emphasized the passenger’s comfort. With that in mind, the wide windows should be kept so that the said passenger would not need to stretch his or her neck out to look outside, while its lowered body height will make it easier for even the shortest passenger to ride the vehicle. In addition, our jeeps’ sleek appearance and functional upholstery still holds up till today.

The usual mode of payment should also be retained. Where else in the world can you see passengers helping the driver collect the fare? At this point, we are not even sure if beep cards are practical enough for everyday usage.

What is unique is good. What is culturally unique is good for tourism. And what is good for tourism is, obviously, good for the economy.

That does not mean we don’t have to comply with the new regulations.

It would only be a matter of time before every jeepney will adopt the Euro-4 engine or the electric jeepney model, so complying with the new regulation is not a moot point. However, while I do not see the practicality of installing wi-fi and GPS on the jeepneys, the CCTV cameras should be complemented with dash cameras so they would act as prevention devices–for instance, like recording pickpocketing and kotongactivities.

How are we going to do it?

The solution should be ideally simple: affected parties like the jeepney operators, drivers, and manufacturers would have to meet with various agencies like the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, the Department of Tourism, and local government units to discuss its viability.

Everyone can perhaps agree that modernization is good for societies. However, it should not come at the cost of displacing our identity. In the face of an interconnected world, we should treasure and celebrate what makes us “us”.

Vernan Jagunap is a photographer and a daydreamer. He shares some of his photographs and daydreams at his blog: Hmmm, Grrr, Blah! Blah! Blah!