From the factory to the picket line, the legacy of the jeepney remains

Since the PUVMP proposal in 2017, several jeepney groups have urged the government to address issues in the program and to let the Philippine jeepney’s legacy live on.

Gracing the thoroughfare with flashy adornments and flamboyant streaks is the backbone of the Filipino commute. Ever so tumultuous, the jeepney’s desperate honks now call for camaraderie. In hopes of improving the country’s transportation system, the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program was proposed in 2017 during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration; it posed a solution to an otherwise inefficient and outdated system. A newer and fresher jeepney was promised to Filipino commuters—one that is environment-friendly, safe, and accessible—but at the expense of the below-minimum-wage-earning drivers.

As the clock strikes nearer to the pushed-back deadline for consolidation on April 30, the race for the jeepney driver’s survival heightens: the jeepney, a microcosm of the Philippine commute, is on the verge of extinction. Uproar echoes the streets in an orderly fashion; drivers and those who stand with them march for just conditions and protest for equity.

With its surrounding controversy, one begs to question: if the drivers hold the short end of the stick, will the program’s promises of modernization outweigh the burden inflicted on them?

A wrench in their plans

Roaming the streets of Guadalupe, Aguajoda Guadalupe-Leon Guinto Chapter President Dione Dayola Sr., has been using jeepneys for the past three decades. While he appreciates the government’s plans for cleaner transport, he emphasizes that the problem lies with the “unrealistic” amount of subsidies. While PUV operators and drivers alike are entitled to a lackluster P280,000 subsidy, jeepney drivers would need a daily earning of P6,000 to P7,000 to pay back the costs of procuring a modernized jeepney. Fearing an inevitable debt trap, Dayola exclaims, “Magkakautang pa ako ng milyones, [ni] hindi ko pa nga nakikita ‘yung isang milyon.”

(I’ll incur a debt worth millions when I haven’t even come across money worth a million.)

In the eyes of jeepney operators, the idea of consolidation is more insulting to their livelihoods than an actual solution. For drivers at the vanguard of the roads, the jeepney represents food on their tables, running water in their homes, and a future for their children. “[Jeep] po talaga ang ikinabubuhay ng aking pamilya. Nakapagpatapos po ako ng anak [dahil sa jeep],” Dayola reflects.

(The jeep has always been our source of income. I have been able to get my children through college because of it.)

Thousands of drivers, operators, and supporters have amassed the streets to fight for the place of jeepneys in our roads.

Para po!

As individual operators and jeepney owners race against the consolidation deadline, there are other increasingly concerning matters. The creation of transportation cooperatives was proposed for more efficient routes and drivers’ wage benefits. But for individual drivers and operators, it spells a loss of proprietorship and stability. And with a steep cost of around P2 million per vehicle unit, these automotive cooperatives can only provide members with a limited number of units to operate. 

Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide—more commonly known as PISTON—National President Mody Floranda has taken to the streets along with thousands of jeepney drivers, operators, and supporters. Among many matters in contention they persistently criticize is the Marcos administration’s continued lack of transparency amid the heavily-delayed program—one upon which Floranda asserts that a focus on the local industry could be the better alternative. 

The utilitarian-oriented jeepney has already established itself as a hallmark of Philippine culture, hence why multiple homegrown manufacturers have mastered the creation of a vehicle to a degree where mechanics are gracefully intertwined with aesthetics. Third-generation Sarao Motors Operation Supervisor Leonard John Sarao expresses his ambivalence about the controversial program. “I’d like to witness [the] jeepney which has been around the Philippines ever since the war to flourish and improve…because everyone has buses [and] trains, but not everyone has their own jeep,” he mulls. 

Citing feelings of betrayal, Dayola laments in Filipino, “It’s painful to see that the consolidation of jeepneys is their (government’s) way of erasing the original jeepney and replacing it with a minibus.”

The road less traveled

The pressing weight of modernization has left hundreds of thousands of livelihoods up in the air. Amid the brunt of it all, many have clamored for an alternative solution: rehabilitating existing jeepneys instead of purchasing new ones.

To jeepney operators, this practice is nothing new. Floranda explains in Filipino, “Even before the government had the program, we were constantly rehabilitating our public transport.” This has indeed been done in the past: under the Anti-Smoke Belching Law, jeepneys that failed emissions tests were required to undergo preventive maintenance. With vehicle rehabilitation costing around P500,000, Floranda points out. “It’s easier to rehabilitate than to buy an expensive [vehicle] that you can’t afford.”

With this proposed shift to repair dilapidated jeepneys, homegrown companies also stand to benefit. Enshrining itself as a household name in the world of public transport, Sarao Motors may well have its legacy erased if the government continually seeks out foreign manufacturers for the modernization project. He states, “[We] cannot compete with imported units because they rely on mass production. They have plants with automated assemblies and presses,” acknowledging that the traditional jeepney, made from surplus Japanese engines such as Isuzu and Mitsubishi, is not on par with global standards. 

However, he still believes that the bespoke craftsmanship of traditional jeepney manufacturers remains to be the ace up their sleeves. “Everyone here who’s working in the Philippines is working in order to improve the economy. But then if you import, you’re improving the economy of the exporters’ country,” Sarao contends. 

Floranda urges the government, “Tayo ang magtayo ng sarili nating industriya at tayo mismo ‘yung lumikha ng ating public transport.” This proposed course of action would create more jobs and boost our economy greatly, instead of trying to kill it through the forced modernization program, as the union leader encapsulates.

(It is up to us to establish our own industry and let our public transport flourish.)

As it stands, the grim realities of the modernization program have sidelined the very people who keep the industry alive. But on all fronts, the fight against the PUV phaseout rages on. A bastion of Filipino life, the jeepney embodies many things to different people. To some passengers, it may only be a vehicle that transports them from point A to point B; for drivers such as Floranda and Dayola, there is simply no other alternative. 

“[If the jeepney is phased out], what will we do? We are not carpenters who can build houses, we are not fishermen who can fish in the sea, and we are not construction workers who can mix cement,” Dayola declares in Filipino. “Driving our jeepneys is all we know.”

This article was published in The LaSallian‘s March 2024 issue. To read more, visit

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