The Vintage Jeepneys of Iloilo
by: Mikka Ella B. Perlas
Ilonggos are, by nature, artistic. They have shown this by the way they live, build their houses and produce their crafts and products.
I’m writing about the artistic jeepneys of Molo City High and SM City Proper. This topic was initially assigned to me but as I began to research on it, my attraction for the jeepneys grew. I began to see this piece of art in a different way. Its unique design and practical use as transport for Ilonggos make it a part of our everyday lives. Compared to other jeepneys, it is shorter in length. The stainless steel embossments prevail in these types of jeepneys. It is diverse from other forms of jeepneys because its ornaments are intricately done manually.
How did this icon start in the first place? How did the Ilonggos add to its distinct beauty? What are its chances of survival for the future considering the present trend of modernity and advances in technology? Will it still remain to be a part of our Ilonggo life?
I visited jeepneygang.com which gave a historical perspective on the jeepney. A fact is that this vehicle was created right after World War II as a solution to the lack of public transport. This vehicle was a transformation of the surplus “Willy Jeep” used by the Americans during the war. It became an instant success because of its affordability and practicality as a mode of transportation. A sturdy utility jeep used for warfare was turned into a colorful vehicle with metal roofing, decorated with chrome, hood ornaments, loud horns, and flashing multi-colored lights. The body was extended to accommodate more passengers and it turned into a twin-benched minibus, where the passengers had their knees almost touching each other. Theory says that the word jeeney is a conflation of “jeep” or “jitney”, another word for a public utility vehicle, or “jeep” and “knee”, referring to its crowded face-to-face seating.
This mode of transport became so popular in Manila that several enterprising individuals from Luzon started to build factories that could manufacture jeepneys in large numbers. Some of these were Sarao, Lawin, Francisco Motors, Fairlane and Melford. The body was built locally while the motor engines were mostly from second hand vehicles. Some of these jeepneys made in Luzon found their way to Iloilo in the 1960's. They became an instant hit and soon after Ilonggos started building their own version of the jeepney.
To get some historical perspective on the life of the Ilonggo jeepney, I gathered information by interviewing the President of the Molo City High Jeepney Association, 61 year old Mang Romulo Antoniano, a jeepney driver-owner for the last 35 years. He is one of the few remaining drivers plying the route Molo in the city with a vintage, Ilonggo-styled jeepney. This is what he had to say:
“In the late 1960’s, enterprising Ilonggos started to make their own version of the jeepney. Although these were patterned after the popular brands from Luzon, they improvised on the design by manufacturing bodies made of stainless steel, embossed animal figures of different kinds on these metal sheets, adding headlights and accessories from vintage cars found being peddled in junk shops, and placing numerous animal metal figures, usually eagles and horses, of different sizes on the hood. These were made by skilled lateros or fabricators from repair shops in the city. This Ilonggo version of the jeepney was immediately accepted by the locals and became an instant hit. The jeepney became a part of Ilonggo culture and became the preferred mode of transportation among the common folks. The cost to manufacture a jeepney during the 1960’s was around P20,000 only. However, as time passed, the costs for maintaining these jeepneys were becoming more expensive. Labor costs to make stainless steel embossments with their elaborate design and unique hood figures were...
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