This picture disturbs me. The top picture shows a woman with a child sit on the second steps of the passenger jeep’s bumper, while the picture below shows two uniformed ladies, probably nursing students, stands on the jeep’s first step. There wasn’t a caption for the top picture. I think it’s up to us to interpret what that image evoke. But the image below poses a question: Are there anymore chivalrous men around?
Run our thoughts what could be inside the minds of the other passengers sitting. Some would feel guilty and wanted to offer their spot, but how would they do that? The jeep is in the middle of the traffic and exchanging seat would be dangerous. To assuage their guilt they would probably shift their eyes on something. Or they would drift their thoughts on happy scenes. Some would probably blame the jeep’s driver. His jeep has no more spot, yet he takes more passenger. But the driver can’t be faulted for that. It is at the discretion of the passenger to get on board or not. Of course, the driver can’t refuse the additional fare he can collect. On the part of that woman with a child, the need must be extreme to get to their destination. Otherwise, she wouldn’t risk her child’s and her safety on that unsafe spot. For the nursing students, maybe they don’t want to be late on their lab or exam.
When I saw these images, Nick Joaquin, the National Artist for Literature, reminded me of his essay “Heritage of Smallness”. In that essay, Nick Joaquin tackles the Filipino’s penchant for anything small and their aversion for anything big. In trade, for example, we have this “Tingi-Tingi” mentality. Whereas people of another nation buy things by the bulk, or by the cartons, or by the pack, we bought things by the pieces, by the sachet. The cigarette, for God’s sake, we buy them by the stick from the “takatak boys”. The cell phone’s load, we scrimp on the “pasa load”.
That “Tingi-Tingi” mentality extended to our jeep transportation. For the teeming 12 million people of Metro Manila, just how many of these 60,000 jeeps (The Land Franchising Regulatory, Transportation Board, (LFRTB’s) estimates), with an average seat about ten can service the metropolis? A mere 0.05%. How much productivity loss is the jeep’s contribution to the monstrous traffic? Well, substantial. How many of these jeeps are smoke belchers that soot one’s nape and soot one’s lungs. Unquantifiable. How many road rage the jeeps have produced because they are like a dilapidated coffin roaming around the street? Again, unquantifiable.
Jeeps are impractical, unsafe, as we have seen in the pictures, the least beneficial as a mode of transport. Yet the government is recalcitrant phasing this out. Why? The primary reason is the employment it provides. The jeep is a cultural icon, we wanted to maintain that, as if, it would add one bit to our nationhood.
The heritage of smallness by Nick Joaquin also touches on Filipino attitudes. He laments why Filipinos don’t have the gumption to get out of their comfort zone. And why we always look at the trees instead of the forest.