In the Philippines, the most common way to get from one place to another if you don’t have a car is not through a cab or subway but through public transportation called a jeepney. It is the dominant mode of transport. It is estimated that there are around 180,000 and 270,000 of them all over the country, with some 75,000 roaming in Metro Manila alone. This popular vehicle resulted from the American troops’ modern jeeps combined with the Filipinos’ creativity and resourcefulness.

American Era in The Philippines

The Philippines became a U.S. territorial possession 1898, starting with the cession of the Philippines to the U.S. by Spain in exchange for $20 million dollars and the end of the Spanish-American War. The U.S. presence on the island brought with them modern equipment, including their military jeeps that were unknown in the Philippines at that time. Before that, the country only knew kalesa, a two-wheeled carrier drawn by a horse and was the major means of public and private transportation. It was the Spanish who introduced it in the 1700s.

Willy’s MB Jeep from 1943. (Joost J. Bakker from IJmuidenCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

By the mid-1930s, a Russian-American and also Jewish entrepreneur named Emil Bachrach started his business in the Philippines called the Bachrach Motor Company. They manufactured vehicles known as the BMC-AC inspired by German DKW vehicles with side-entry carriages attached. BMC-AC had a back-entry carriage style that was connected through a chassis. It could transport four people, two on each side. The motor vehicle used was the British Austin 7s and then the American Bantam later on. These two were the predecessors of Jeep. They then expanded these carriages to seat eight to ten people.

The Americans remained in the Republic of the Philippines until the US recognition of Philippine Independence in 1946, shortly after World War II ended. When they left, they abandoned hundreds of Jeeps that were either sold or given to the Filipinos. There was even a scandal about Harry Stonehill. He allegedly created a black market to sell these military surpluses (and that he also created a business empire in the Philippines that involved bribing then-Philippine President Diosdado Macapagal, future President Marcos, and former-President Garcia. The whole fiasco was called the Stonehill scandal.)

This was when Filipino creativity kicked in, and they modified the Jeeps.

Filipino Modification

Jeepney in Cebu, Philippines. (Øyvind HolmstadCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

First, they added a metal roof to shade and protect the commuters and the driver against the weather. You see, the Philippines is located near the equator so the dry season is usually comprised of harsh sunny days while the wet season was with heavy rains and storms; a roofless vehicle just wouldn’t work. The hoods and sides were ornamented with chrome-plated decorations, while the back was modified with parallel benches so passengers would be facing each other. That way, more people could be accommodated. The sides of the vehicles were also painted in vibrant colors that now evolved from paintings of religious figures to portraits of loved ones to cartoon characters. The size and length also changed throughout the years, with the passenger capacity reaching up to 18 at maximum (although jeepney drivers used to squeeze in as many passengers as they could pre-pandemic that the others were barely sitting while some were hanging from the jeepney entrance.) The first jeepneys were refurbished military jeeps, but the recent ones usually have engines and parts imported from Japan and South Korea.

photo; wikimedia commons

Dominating The Roads

Jeepneys, now labeled as “Public Utility Jeepneys” (PUJ), is now dominating the Philippine roads. With its inexpensive fare and almost round-the-clock availability, it’s easy to understand why. A huge amount of the workforce depends on riding the jeepneys to work back and forth. That goes the same for the majority of the students. The government regulates the fare and the drivers have to get a special driver’s license. Routes are also specific, and drivers can’t just drive around wherever to get passengers.

Modern jeepneys usually include strip LED lights, loud booming music, CCTVs, televisions, or sometimes even karaokes for passengers to enjoy while riding. There had been some E-jeepneys roaming as well that were part of the Department of Transportation’s modernization program. In summary, these jeepneys are a vital part of the Philippine culture and identity.