Originally written for a class in Philippine Culture with the great Doreen Fernandez
by Eric Santillan
Today is the Feast Day of St. Augustine, the patron saint of my city (Cagayan de Oro). Allow me to be a little nostalgic then. This was something I wrote for a class with Doreen Fernandez (God bless her soul).
When I was growing up in Cagayan de Oro, I rode the jeepney[ref]When American troops began to leave the Philippines at the end of WWII, hundreds of surplus jeeps were sold or given to local Filipinos. The Filipinos stripped down and altered the jeeps to accommodate more passengers, added metal roofs for shade, and decorated the vehicles with vibrant colors and bright chrome hood ornaments.
The jeepney rapidly emerged as a popular and creative way to re-establish inexpensive public transportation, which had been virtually destroyed during WWII. Recognizing the widespread use of these vehicles, the Philippine government began to regulate their use. Drivers now must have specialized licenses, regular routes, and reasonably fixed fares.
[/ref] to school. I would go home with some schoolmates who lived near my home. I don’t know about now, but the jeepneys then were something else.
I’m not talking about outrageous colors- blue, red, orange, pink, jet black (although our jeepneys do have outrageous colors). I am not talking about the “borloloys” – little thingmajigs like crosses, beads, laces, horse-replicas (although our jeepneys also have that). I am not talking about loud speakers custom fitted (although our jeepneys also have that).
I am simply talking about character. All over the Philippines, the jeepney is decorated with borloloys, and painted different colors and outfitted with different speakers. That’s normal jeepney fare (pardon the pun). But our jeepneys in Cagayan de Oro have names. And we call them by name.
There’s the very popular Macho Guys– a Gusa liner (Gusa is a place in CDO) that’s colored purple and black and was known for its speed. Students, specially from the all-girl school simply love Macho Guys because they almost always arrive 20 minutes faster. Older women avoid it like the plague—I guess they want to arrive in one piece even if they arrive 20 minutes later (talk about the wisdom of old age!). There’s the so-called GARAHE Brothers—three jeepneys with almost identical markings but colored differently- one black (Garahe 1), one orange (Garahe 2), and the other green (Garahe 3). Garahe 3 is also known for having a very kind conductor (the one who accepts fees). So if you don’t have money, just wait for the green Garahe, explain everything to him and ride free. There’s a red Patag-liner (whose name escapes me at the moment) with a young brash driver, and lights of different colors during evening drives. By the way, that’s probably how Patag got the infamous “Patay Liners” tag.
(By the way, jeepneys in CDO always have a tandem of a driver and a conductor. It makes life easier both for the driver (so he could concentrate on his driving) and the passengers (they’re sure to get the exact change and they arrive faster since the driver can just concentrate on his driving).
There’s the Pink Lady which is colored, well, pink; but is also known for its great sound system. My favorite was called MM 1 (one of the MM twins: MM 1 and MM 2). It’s deep purple and red. It’s bigger than the usual-sized jeepneys. It’s really fast. The “conductor” became a good friend that I sometimes ride for free. The music’s literally a blast (loud, big speakers turned full volume). My second choice is its twin who goes through the same route. It’s colored dark blue and red, and has almost the same features. .
I do not know if this is the case now, but when I was growing up, jeepneys had their own following. I have friends who would wait along the highway at 6:30 in the morning just to be able to ride the jeepney of their choice. Countless other jeepneys going along the same route without passengers would wheeze by and my friends would wait oh-so-patiently until their favorite would arrive. Others even wait at the other side of the road to catch the jeepney as it goes towards the end of its route and come back. They would have to pay double but they get the choice seats. That’s just how loyalty works.
The jeepney was an informal manhood rite among us. A wealthy classmate in highschool never rode a jeepney in his life until my classmates started calling him names. He was forced to start riding the jeepney going to school to make the name-calling stop! He was also forced to sabit (ride the jeep from the back) as an extension of this rite.
There’s also a distorted form of chivalry involved in this jeepney culture. Boys from the exclusive school trying to earn their brownie points are almost always happy to give their seats gallantly to girls from the other exclusive school. A common sight on school days are jeepneys filled to the brim with boys wearing the distinct Xavier University polo on the sabit outside the jeep; the inside would be filled with girls wearing the distinctive pink uniform.
Cagayan de Oro has a public utility vehicle culture. Even those with private cars do not have second thoughts about taking public transportation. The place is small and compact enough to make public transpo convenient: you do not have to walk long from your jeepney stop in order to reach the place you want to go to. Almost all of Cagayan de Oro is accessible by jeepney: the shopping malls, churches, schools, the port area, and markets– all have at least one jeepney route (oftentimes three or four) along them.
It was almost like a microcosm of Kagay-anon culture. It showed the love of Kagay-anons for aesthetics- cleanliness, beauty and design are always taken into consideration when people choose the jeepneys they ride. The same elements of cleanliness, beauty and design are also taken into consideration when Kagay-anons make their local malls, their beach houses, their resorts, and even their taxis. The taxis of CDO is the stuff of another article.
There’s the obvious love for speed and of getting there fast. Cagayan de Oro is a fast growing city. And yet at the same time, there’s the propensity of the Kagay-anons to be late for appointments—they know the jeepneys are so fast, and the place is relatively small (you’ll arrive from one point to any other point in less than 30 minutes), so they delay.
There’s the obvious love for music. This was emphasized all the more by cable television. Thanks to the Paras family of Cagayan de Oro, cable television arrived in almost every household in the city much earlier than in Metro Manila (and with a much cheaper price too). Everybody started watching MTV and Channel V. Foreign songs that were not yet heard of in Manila and Cebu were being sung by Kagay-anons. Jeepney owners splurged to get the best sound systems. FM radio stations had to keep up with MTV. And soon, they were playing the latest hits, not according to the Manila charts (which was the standard until then) but according to the MTV hitlist. Radio stations then started to get loyalty among jeepneys.
In the jeepney, the old and the new meet. The old traditional values of loyalty (suki culture) and importance placed on relationships meet MTV in a graceful incorporation. The jeepney becomes a graceful and worthy amalgam of the old and the new. And the jeepney brings it forth with speed and a token regard for safety. It is a symbol of the Kagay-anon: fast, accepting of the new, but places importance on the old. Devil-may-care perhaps, but always there for you.
It is a symbol of the Kagay-anon. Friendly, loyal, and trustworthy. People (specially the students) become acquaintances and friends because they ride the same jeepney almost every day. Drivers know their passengers. Conductors know the schedule of their passengers. Everyone smiles at everyone else because they know each other at least by face.
When I was growing up in Cagayan de Oro, I would ride MM 1 on lazy Saturday afternoons, pay the conductor, and relax on my choice seat—without any real destination. The conductor knows: I just want to relax, listen to good music, and people watch. We would go along the beautiful, sleek, fast, and clean highways of the city, and it would dawn on me that this is truly a city worthy of its name. The City of Golden Friendship.
Because just then, I would see the other passengers.
And smile back.