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A sad, dilapidated symbol

LIKE other politicians hitching a ride on the “pro-poor” wagon, Sen. Grace Poe wants to delay the public utility vehicle modernization program (PUVMP) that seeks to replace old, diesel-guzzling jeepneys with modern counterparts that would be better for the environment and give commuters a safer and more comfortable ride.

This delay would come by way of a review of the PUVMP for the benefit of a minority of jeepney drivers and operators who refuse to comply with the program, even though they have had every opportunity to do so.

This noisy minority — which seems to believe that the world owes them a living — has gone on strike several times to the disadvantage of the commuters they are supposed to serve. The jeepney drivers and operators have also gone to court to pressure the government into junking the program. This they have done, even though some 80 percent of jeepney drivers and operators nationwide have already organized themselves into cooperatives or corporations, as required by the PUVMP, in preparation for acquiring the new, more efficient vehicles.

Traditional jeepneys. THE MANILA TIMES FILE PHOTO

Poe and other lawmakers say the government should rework the program to give priority to local manufacturers who gave us the traditional jeepneys that we have today. In this, they make one unsupported and dubious assumption that surely, these local manufacturers' modern take on the jeepney “would be more dependable and affordable” than anything the world has to offer.

Now, the senator who heads the Senate Committee on Public Services has found yet another argument to prolong the lives of these smoke-belching dinosaurs: culture.

The design of the traditional jeepneys, she argued, is easily recognized as distinctly Filipino and should not be lost in our push to modernize the public transportation system.

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In a radio interview, Poe said we should allow the “iconic jeepney designs” to be used as long as they can meet safety requirements, adding that these could be “be tweaked to make them safer and more convenient for the public.”

She also said keeping the traditional designs could help the country's tourism campaign.

“If they really want to help promote our cultural development, we can get the help of artists as consultants. They can help our drivers with the standard designs,” she said in Filipino, noting that other countries' public transportation vehicles feature their nations' cultural trademarks.

She pointed to the tuk-tuks of Bangkok and the double-decker buses of London, saying these vehicles have character and add value to their tourism because of their uniqueness.

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The same can be said of our own jeepneys, which have a long history dating back to World War II, she said. “That's why they're also very popular.”

Here, we beg to differ.

Commuters ride jeepneys because they are inexpensive, not because they are culturally significant or have a long history. Even the good senator, in the middle of this heat wave, is likely to choose to ride in an air-conditioned bus — which she describes as “ugly” and being without “soul” — than a traditional jeepney where fumes, dust and heat combine to create a uniquely Filipino public transport hell that no amount of tweaking will correct.

It is high time we stop romanticizing the jeepney. There's nothing romantic about an old, dirty, cramped and unsafe ride.

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The arguments about culture are tired and anachronistic. There may have been a time when the jeepney was the “king of the road,” but those days are long gone, just like the “kalesa” and “tramvia” from our colonial past. Supporters of the traditional jeepney, like Poe, say it is a symbol of the Filipino spirit, of ingenuity and resource1fulness — but do we really want that spirit to be stuck in the past, tied to what is basically a hodgepodge of borrowed and outdated technology left over by the Americans in the 1940s and 1950s?

If the jeepney is a symbol of Filipino ingenuity, it is a sad, dilapidated one that is in desperate need of updating. Filipinos, after all, are much more than a collection of chrome horses, badly drawn artwork, garish colors — and undisciplined drivers — that the traditional jeepney has come to represent.

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Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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