Malilong: King of the road no more

Goodbye, jeepney?

The king of the road—“the dominant cultural icon and national symbol of pride,” as author Patricia Mariano put it?

From what we read, the end—the fall from its once lofty perch—looks inevitable this time with the government finally (?) finding the political will to pursue its public transport modernization program. Or does it?

Pardon the lack of enthusiasm, but we have witnessed this scenario unfold enough times already to warrant our unbelief. Too many times we have been promised firm government action, only to see resolve melt in the face of political pressure.

Already, there are signs of government wavering. Faced with the threat of a transport strike, they quickly extended the deadline for compliance of the requirement that operators join cooperatives or corporations if they want to be issued a provisional authority to operate. Meanwhile, the Senate has opened an inquiry on the modernization plan.

We’re not saying that nothing good will come out of the Senate hearing. One of the complaints against joining a corporation or a cooperative is that it is expensive. Maybe, the government can offer a subsidy to make it less burdensome for small-time operators.

Besides, a way should be found to modernize without the jeepney being wasted and becoming a casualty. Maybe, the government can encourage businessmen to invest in the manufacture of bigger, more environmentally friendly and safer jeepneys. Reward the Filipino ingenuity that inspired the creation of the colorful vehicles in backyard shops that have become part of our national heritage.

As it is, there seems to be a bias in favor of vehicles manufactured abroad, especially China. Look at the so-called modern public utility vehicles (PUVs) now plying our streets. Do you see any that are Philippine-made? Why should we completely rely on foreign-made vehicles as the backbone of our modern transport system when local manufacturers like Francisco and Sarao have amply demonstrated in the past their capacity to build?

I know that you will argue: Only the bodies were locally made; the engines were imported and second-hand. But shouldn’t that be where government effort should be focused: manufacturing our own vehicle engines?

Our local PUV operators and drivers are just as similarly threatened by the modernization plan as their counterparts in Manila but they’re not joining the strike. But even as we thank them for their levelheadedness, we should remember that even the virtuous do not have limitless patience.