The Philippines is placed uniquely in the region such that we have cultural icons and landmarks that distinctly shows our heritage. Of course, a popular icon that is uniquely Filipino is the famous jeepney that has been touted as a symbol of the Philippines. The jeepney is a product of Filipino innovation post World War 2: it was produced by upcycling US Willy Jeeps used during the war. Over the years, not only was the jeepney used as a default public mode of transportation, but it went to attract tourists all year round, rain or shine, so much so that the iconic Filipino jeepney made its way to international exhibitions and even to souvenir shops where one would see a miniature form to be given as pasalubong or gift.
The jeepney is proudly Philippine-made, and no jeepney is alike because each has been personalized by its driver to reflect personal interests reflective of Philippine culture. To a certain extent, we have seen famous personalities ride the jeepney — something that would always be included in one’s itinerary when visiting the country.
Consequently, the jeepney, almost seven-and-a-half decades later, is a symbol of backwardness and poverty, and unfortunately not advancement. It does look like it stood the test of time as it still is the same vehicle we all know. These vehicles have not seen any improvement over the years, truth be told. Its value proposition does not reek of comfort, but of cost efficiency, perhaps even a lack of choice in some areas. The innovation somehow stopped when it began in the 1950s, and we have all been stuck since then.
Plans to modernize, upgrade and transform the jeepney have always been in the pipeline and seemingly the government has the political will to proceed at this point in time. It is also expected that there would be resistance (to change) to plans meant to improve the delivery of public services through the Philippine jeepneys. As the famous adage goes, “Why fix it if it ain’t broken?”
But it is high time that these are upgraded. It is high time that these cultural iconic symbols of Philippine culture see a brand-new day, refreshed, revamped and transformed. First of all, this iconic symbol deserves it: it deserves to be part of our future and should be representative and reflective of it, and not be a symbol of how it is stuck in time. Secondly, the riding public deserves better transport services, including safety and comfort.
The program of the government is laudable but may lack proper planning and execution. As with any big project, proper communication and effective information dissemination are of utmost importance in order to convey the right messages, lest that these are not understood from the beginning, and interpreted incorrectly, and thereby risking not getting the support of the jeepney stakeholders. With the government spearheading this project, it is important that officials tasked to communicate this be involved and work closely with the jeepney stakeholders.
It is also worthwhile noting the objectives and motivations of both sides: government, of course, would want to modernize to be able to deliver public services better, and more efficiently and sustainably, accounting for environmental and social factors as well. The jeepney drivers, on the other hand, look at affordability and the money they are able to bring home on a day to day basis, among other things. In the end, these should all be addressed through a proper dialogue, in a language that both sides understand, in a tone that is collaborative and progressive.
The path to modernization is not easy, as we have seen over the years, but with proper communication and effective information dissemination, we can be assured that there is a good shot to make this happen at this point in time.
Kay Calpo Lugtu is the Chief Operating Officer of Hungry Workhorse, a digital and culture transformation firm. Her advocacies include food innovation, nation-building and sustainability. The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.