LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – Aft the windshield of a passenger jeep plying the Baguio-La Trinidad route is pasted a poster of Mother Mary, Mom of Jesus.
Another, plying the Trancoville route, on the left wing of its windshield is a small poster of the caricature of a pregnant woman with the inscription, “Mahal, tingnan mo ang ginawa mo!” (Love, look what you’ve done!).
Below the step of a jeep traversing Ucab route that leads passengers inside the public vehicle, hangs a mudguard with the message, “Katas daytoy ti anos!” (Fruit of hard work), meaning, the driver was able to own a passenger jeep because of back-breaking labor.
One jeep seen in Kapangan has an inscription, “No Money? No Honey!” Still another, plying the same route seems to tease that inscription with its own graffiti of, “You have the Money, Honey; I Have the Time.”
A jeep doing the route of Atok municipality makes people smile whenever they read the inscription on its mudguard, which says, “Na-ay di resulta di kabubunag din nateng, patatas ya sayote!” (This jeep, a result of sheer work loading up vegetables like potatoes and chayote).
A jeep traversing Marcos Highway was seen with these inscribed words on its mudguard: “Kung masama gising mo sa umaga, halikan mo lang ako, okey ka na!”
While another public jeep seen somewhere along Magsaysay Road, Baguio City has an inscription on its dashboard, saying, “No Girls Until You’ve Got the Money.”
One jeep plying the La Trinidad Pico route has words on its dashboard, “The family that prays together, stays together.”
Or, hanging on the tasseled curtains on windshields of many passenger jeeps are rosaries and embroidered in them are the ubiquitous driver’s prayer, “God Bless Our Trip!”
Once dubbed “king of the road”, the Philippine passenger jeeps speak a lot of Filipino drivers’ culture on wheels. Jaynos Gasmin, local observer from La Trinidad and who has been riding on jeeps for almost the entire part of his life, says, “For a jeepney with graffiti is a driver’s advertisement for himself. Reading jeepney graffiti, one may catch glimpses into the lives of these drivers, their aspirations and outlook in life.”
Wittingly or unwittingly, these graffiti open wide the inner sanctum of feelings of jeepney drivers.
Another jeep passenger, Sylvia Limiting from La Trinidad, explains those graffiti of one-liners, captions, proverbs, mottos and prayers that clutter up dashboards or its sides are meant to communicate that the driver, with his back to passengers is, like his vehicle, “alive” and “unique.”
Baguio City resident Glen Estacio, asked of his opinion on jeep graffiti, says “It probably is part of street communication or street culture which is short but which can still be understood.”
Student researchers of Benguet State University (BSU who had some time to talk and dissect about the subject with Herald Express and are regular jeep passengers themselves, opine “Despite alienation and anonymity in Baguio City or La Trinidad life, there is a tendency to personalize these encounters in public places through use of traditional communicative devices – like jeep graffiti.”
However, these BSU students hastened to add they are not talking about graffiti painted on public and private walls, posts or anywhere committed by persons with felonious attitude or with criminal intent as they are only appreciative of the jeepney graffiti that connotes mild, humorous or religious messages.
While inscriptions of jeepney graffiti vary, the BSU student-researchers offer an understanding that the pictures and languages of folklore communication reinforce each other in effectively transmitting messages on urban and rural streets where such communication is peripheral or, at best, secondary to the more pressing need to hustle for passengers or to catch a ride.
One student went the length of explaining he has yet to see humour graffiti that spells doom for the jeepneys, in reference the government’s modernization plan for public utility vehicles.
Some sort of graffiti like, “Ang pagka-buwag ng jeepney sa Piliinas, “or, “Ang pagguho ng mundo ng jeepney sa Pilipinas,” or, “Ang paglusaw ng jeepney,” or “Ang nagbabadyang pag-pagpatay ng jeepney sa Pilipinas,” or, “O’ modernisasyon, tingnan mo ang ginawa mo sa jeepney ko,” or, “Aanhin ko pa ang jeepney ko, kung ayaw na siya ng gobyierno,” messages to that effect, grinningly explains the student.
The student has a grasp of the current situation. With the modernization program of the public utility system consistently pushed by the government, the days of the jeepney are numbered and the probable demise of the workhorse of Philippine transportation for decades seems imminent.
Not unless jeepney drivers and the government can find a win-win solution to make passenger jeepneys stay afloat with the maximum aim of making the jeepneys environment-friendly and not contributory to climate change and pollution – which is also the yardstick of the public utility modernization plan.
If jeepney drivers fail to commit to such objectives, until then, they will find their jeepneys committed to the junkyard grave. Already made in Korea, vans and China mini-buses are challenging jeeps on the road.
In Baguio City and elsewhere in parts of CAR where there is a ban on tricycles, jeeps continue to reign supreme. However, in Baguio City, the introduction of the mini bus bodes ill for jeeps plying different routes.
Richard Gasipen, a local observer from La Trinidad and who has been riding on jeeps for almost the entire part of his life, says he had seen graffiti that range from borrowings of foreign and local movies, as well as Tagalog, Ilocano, Cordilleran, and American other minority argot, as well as “swardspeak.”
One swardspeak graffiti Gasipen saw on a jeepney that runs the Bayan Park route says, “Ang jowa ko ang boss ko, pero mahal ko ang jeep ko.” Whether that graffiti kindles approval from the wife of the driver, Gasipen laughingly says he doesn’t know.
Graffiti inscriptions also tend to reflect jeepney drivers’ loyalty to regions where they emanate. One jeepney seen by the BSU student- researchers has the words, “Pride of Ilocos!” On the other hand, they also saw a jeepney with graffiti: “Cordilleran warrior.”
One student reveals he spotted a jeep somewhere in Baguio with the inscription, “Tikoy,” apparently in reference to a drug subculture, for Tikoy is a nickname of a cough syrup containing codeine. Codeine, when misused can be addicting.
A passenger jeep, used primarily as a driving game for economic competition, also happens to be a picture of speed motif, represented by miniature chrome wings on horses on the hood and paintings of airplanes or birds that speak of speed.
And use of elegant words on inscriptions is but a manifestation of the competition for status. Consider this scene in one jeep which says, “A millionaire forever,” while another jeep seen is “A socialite forever.”
On the part of jeepney drivers, Herald Express got their side why their fondness to put graffiti or motifs. Baldwin Sandino, a jeepney driver for more than twenty years summed it up by saying: “A jeepney is like a woman who loves beautiful clothes. If we make good, we dress her up.”
Apparently, such intimate identification with the jeepney as an extension of the driver’s personality emphasizes the jeepney’s function as a status symbol. For example, the drivers explain a jeep with six or eight chrome horses on its hood is deemed superior to only with only two or three horses. In short, one-upmanship is the name of their game.
For the struggle of survival, to a jeepney driver, is a daily fact of life they have mastered with their own strategies. And one of these one-upmanship or strategy is called in Tagalog “lamangan,” or the ability to best one jeepney driver in getting passengers.
One area of competition inscribed in their graffiti is sex, the emphasis on male sexuality. They have a common belief that successful jeepney drivers have “women on their side.” Thus, the popular graffiti seen as “You may hang on, but don’t get caught/You may cut in, but don’t get caught in-between.” Both “hang on” and “cut in” can refer to passengers and traffic but also have double meanings.
As a rule of thumb, passengers don’t engage jeep drivers in conversation, as one would to a taxi driver. For the jeep driver has a captive audience, what with his inscription in public view for passengers to read and ponder on.
Jeep drivers have this penchant of packing their passengers like sardines even when already filled to capacity and to get away with their guilt, some jeeps have inscriptions like, “If you’re sexy, you’re free/If you’re fat, pay double/If you’re ugly, pay triple.” Messages that passengers take with a grain of salt.
If a jeep driver can assure passengers with his graffiti, “God is my co-pilot,” he can also flirt with the slogan, “The driver is single,” or “Forget everything but not the fare.”
Many drivers interviewed reveal they possess limited formal education and often see the community as economically restrictive but still believing one can make it if aggressive and hardworking, hence the graffiti on the jeeps, saying, “We rest only when we urinate.”
Local observers point out the popular sticker, “God knows Hudas not pay,” happens to be being phased out in passenger jeeps in the Cordillera. In like manner, the omen for passenger jeeps for its future seems ominous.