A series of broadsheet-sized billboards hung on lamp posts around the elliptical road in Quezon City has caught my attention for the last 45 minutes.
The latest of the Department of Tourism’s print ad campaign showcased some of the ‘Wealth Of Wonders’ of our 7,107 islands—romanticized of course in true Philippine fiesta colors and banderitas.
I have spent a good 15 minutes staring impassively at Bohol and its all too famous tarsier when the jeepney finally lurched forward.
Now, I was transported to Palawan and stayed there for half an hour. There’s Batanes, Mindoro and Davao lined up in Central; it would probably just take me another 30 minutes to finally see the Philippine eagle. And a week after, I expect to reach my real destination: my home in Muntinlupa, the southernmost tip of Metro Manila.
As the jeep weaved through a humid, midday bottleneck in Quezon Circle, I noticed how the country’s ‘King of the Road’ does cleverly well with multi-tasking. Aside from performing mental arithmetic with a barrage of hands extending fares, Manong, was calmly barkering, driving, and hogging a piece of bananaque all at the same time.
There is something about the jeepney driver that I can’t help but admire and loathe at the same time. For one, I really do believe that they are the most optimistic people on the roads. They don’t know the meaning of the word impossible as well as the basic definition of matter.
Take for example my jeepney ride from Philcoa to Quezon Avenue; Manong made frequent stops along the elliptical road, thinking that his already cramped twenty four-seater jeep can still squeeze in a room for two. He also disregards the fact that people are matter; objects that occupy space and have weight; and not just a statistical inference. So, he counts people as a single unit despite the fact that a particularly large person occupies twice as much space and weight than just one individual.
I sat beside a ‘chubby’ person when the driver and his barker were calling for more passengers to get on board. When the driver saw that the last space was occupied by Mr. chubby he impolitely blurted out, ”O konting ipit, kain kasi ng kain.” The embarrassed passenger quickly shrugged off the insult and retorted, ”Manong, bayad o, dalawahin nyo na!”
Jeepney drivers in general seem to extend this wanton disregard to the commuter’s convenience by allowing certain insensitive individuals to travel with their extremely large baggage.
I remembered a recent trip to Fairview when an overly optimistic driver allowed a passenger to hop on board with her two enormous Orocan containers. The woman agreed to pay extra for the plastic cans but refused to do so for her child. So, in a candid display of sheer Pinoy cleverness, the blue and green Orocan containers sat comfortably at the center aisle, while a teenager boy crouched on the lap of his 40-something mother.
When Michael Schumacher visited the Philippines several years ago, he saw our jeepneys plying the road. He inquired about it and became more fascinated with its horn that resembled a mad laughter. If Manong and Schumacher raced along EDSA, I would place my bet on Manong in a heartbeat.
Perhaps doing the cross before the jeep moves forward best shows Filipino Catholicism in action: seeking divine protection from the certainty of a gruesome death. Fortunately though, I survived my jeepney ride in one piece.
When I reached my house, it was already 7 in the evening. The first thing I looked for is my bed, not my mother. If there is one consolation however, I never experienced any near-fatal accidents or hold-ups that could really be worth telling.
But whether or not my experiences pale in comparison with the others, one thing remains certain: commuting in Metro Manila is an experience.
I think the Department of Tourism should start tapping the great potential of commuting to lure in more foreign visitors. They say if you want to know a country, go to its markets; I say, if you want to experience a country, commute there.
We have recently exported our jeepneys to Papua New Guinea and is now used to replace their old shuttle buses. Other countries in the Pacific are thinking about importing these vehicles as well. Now, Filipino commuting goes global.