Yet another anti-jeepney article: How Manila’s iconic Tranvia system was relegated to a mere historical footnote by Filipino “activists”

Indeed. We’ve written so many of them already, and yet here I am writing yet another one. To be fair, writing anti-jeepney articles is one of the easiest things. For some background on our proud tradition of anti-jeepney, check out this little animated GIF…

This animated GIF was hand-crafted by Yours Truly way back in 2000 — back in a time when criticising what were then pillars of Philippine society and culture, jeepneys included, was regarded as shocking. Our regard for many of these formerly shocking insights on Filipino culture has since been normalised and now form part of polite conversation: that Filipinos’ tropical culture predispose them to a lack of foresight; that Filipinos suck at saving, accumulation, and, therefore, capital expansion; that ours is an inherently unjust society despite it being constituted by an outwardly religious people; and that all these facets of Filipinos’ culture dysfunction find their collective embodiment in the jeepney.

Subscribe to our Substack community GRP Insider to receive by email our in-depth free weekly newsletter. Opt into a paid subscription and you'll get premium insider briefs and insights from us.
Subscribe to our Substack newsletter, GRP Insider!
Learn more

Jeepneys, in short, represent everything that is wrong with the Philippines. Nonetheless, these derelict contraptions continue to apply an astounding grip on the sensibilities of the country’s foremost “thought leaders”. In a recent Rapplerreport”, Isagani de Castro Jr presumes to compare jeepneys to vehicles that had become “cultural icons” in other countries.

Can you imagine the Philippines without its jeepney? Or Thailand without its tuk-tuk? Hong Kong without its Star Ferry? London without its double-decker bus?

These modes of transportation have become cultural icons in these places, and phasing them out would mean losing part of that territory’s soul.

It is interesting that de Castro, in his “report” also wrote about Japan’s streetcars and how, along with the other examples he cited above, gushed about how they are “prime examples of how cultural transport icons boost tourism”. De Castro failed to remind his readers that pre-war Manila had, itself, been known for its iconic streetcars. Manila’s tranvias have been cited as once-upon-a-time being the “envy of Asia”. Adrian Gamble wrote about these, at the time, “modern steam- then electric-powered streetcar and interurban rail service that once lined the streets of the Philippine capital” which “consisted of nearly 100 kilometres of track and carried more than 35 million passengers during its peak in the 1920s.”

By the 1920s and into the ’30s, the Manila Tramway became one of the most extensive tram networks in Asia, rivalling those in far more populated cities like Hong Kong (600,000 by 1930) and Tokyo (4,000,000 by 1930). Its 100-kilometre urban and interurban service carried a recorded 35 million passengers during its peak year in 1925. The tramway was a central part of the rapidly modernizing city, as the former colonial port town was growing up fast. The American influence and capital that had flowed into the Philippines following the US takeover brought with it a host of impressive Beaux-Arts and later Art Deco edifices, as a series of new office towers, government buildings, and train stations began to transform the Philippine capital.

To prop the jeepney up alongside historic public transport icons of other countries and leave out the one that actually holds a stronger claim to that pedestal attests to the selective “thinking” that Filipino “thought leaders” apply to their work. The way Filipinos habitually choose mediocrity over world-class achievement manifests itself today in how the Philippines lags far behind its peers in Southeast Asia in the development of modern mass public transportation. Why do Filipinos find such disturbing comfort in short-sighted solutions to their most profound problems. The mystery persists.

10 Replies to “Yet another anti-jeepney article: How Manila’s iconic Tranvia system was relegated to a mere historical footnote by Filipino “activists””

  1. They can start banning them in Metro Manila, then gradually reduce them throughout the country. I noticed on Monday, the air was cleaner, and there was very little traffic.

  2. I simply cannot understand why many still have to revere the jeepney as an icon of Filipino culture–when in fact, it doesn’t fit, especially for the changing times. These so-called ‘rolling coffins’ represent what is wrong with Filipino culture and attitudes; true, they were improvised out of discarded World War II vehicles, but the way these are being operated and driven show how reckless these pesky ‘draybers’ are. Then there is that ‘talagang ganyan’ mentaliuty whereas, for as long as it runs, it can still be used–but think of how unsafe, costly to maintain and polluting their beloved units have become. It is high time authorities junk the decades-old jeepneys in favour of more sustainable, safer and environment-friendly alternatives such as e-jeepneys which are kept clean, and whose drivers as well as operators (of which many are also being run by transport cooperatives) do attend seminars and have professionalized the way their entities are being run.

    1. They revere jeepneys as icons of Philippine culture, yet there are jeepneys which have foreign car brand logos, including Mercedes-Benz logo, not to mention jeepneys didn’t originate from Philippines, where’s the logic? The jeepneys are worthless junks and are proofs of low standards in the country.

  3. Modernizing public transport does not only stop at modernizing vehicles, but also requires a change in mindset. Filipinos can cling to nostalgia all they want but this ‘icon’ they speak of is already a galapagos syndrome of multitudes of what is wrong with Filipino culture. Jeepneys already represent the parasitism of Failipinos in everyday lives, the domino effect leading to ‘Filipino Time’, ‘grace period’ where studies have shown to lose billions of pesos everyday due to workers showing up late multiple times.

    In all honesty, all Filipinos have are drawings after drawings (referring to plans that have been left to dust but lack execution). Heck, even LRT line extensions have already been planned DECADES before it actually took to fruition few years ago. Failipinos always like to talk about legacy, about infrastructure instead of actually doing it. They like being hindered behind by some bureaucratical fuck who is always out of touch with reality, probably who couldn’t even touch grass everyday.

    1. This is an important point that cannot be emphasized enough. Public transport is a system — not a bunch of vehicles clambering over one another to pick up and drop off passengers. The best ones in the world reflect the character of the societies that built them — vast in scale, running like clockwork, clean and reliable, comfortable and welcoming. None of these qualities can be said to even remotely describe Filipinos’ revered jeepney “system”.

  4. The Jeepney arose from out of the necessity after the war. It has served its purpose.

    With the increasing number of commuters that need to be serviced daily, it’s no longer sustainable in recent times. The need for a more efficient mass transport system is in order.

    A mass transport system being the replacement principle will give the jeepney its natural demise.

    From the Light Rail Transit sytem (it’s ironic, being the first in southeast asia) and the air-conditioned double-decker Love Buses of the 1970s to the The North–South Commuter Railway (NSCR) project of the 2000s, the government’s thrust is heading towards the right direction… a modern transport system that is better, faster, sustainable and efficient.

    The time gap between those periods of lack of creativity plus inactivity proves that Yellowtardism got it all wrong.

  5. public transport is not too hard at all

    its the people with vested interests who are keeping it from happening, the bastards who benefit from chaos and disarray.

    that includes everyone from manny villar to henry sy to the idiot “transport” groups like piston

  6. Shouldn’t the technological evolution also change our politics and economics? The disparity in social status and development is a result of an entire system and not just from isolated, individual events. You can replace the players, but if the operating mechanism is the same, things will stay the same-or perhaps get worse.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.