Filipino Icon: The Jeepney

Here's a glimpse on the history of this quintessential Philippine mass transport facility, which was borne just shortly after the Second World War

By Chit Juan

Photo by Bien Bautista

Jeepneys are those ubiquitous colorful, open-sided vehicles that ply the Philippines' main roads and used to be the major means of transportation, until buses and the light rail transits or Mass Transit Railway took over. Still, it is the favored public transport for short rides and allows passengers to get off at convenient posts.

But who invented this jeeney? Well, jeepneys evolved from the US Military jeeps left over from World War II. Filipinos converted the Willys and M38 model jeeps by removing the tailgate (backdoor), making a rounded canvas or tin roof, and painting them in wild vibrant colors. The first models were called "auto Calesa" (a calesa was a horsedrawn carriage) or AC, seating four in the rear and two in front beside the driver. Then, the Filipinos innovated and had longer chassis made, that could accommodate from four to 10 passengers on either side. The bigger jeeps had to hire a fare collector.


The Jeepney also had its own "rules" or etiquette. Passengers relied on the courtesy of fellow passengers to pass on the fare to the driver who doubles up as fare collector. The driver also had a wide rear view mirror so he could see all the passengers, take note of where they boarded and charge them just the right fare for the distance covered.

Famous names in jeepney manufacturing are Sarao Motos, Francisco Motors, Legaspi and Malaguena.


Though it is a symbol of pop culture, the jeepney is facing increasing road restrictions due to its remanufactured diesel-powered engines that have been proven to cause a lot of air pollution. Each jeepney transporting just 10-12 passengers pollutes just as much as a bus that can transport 50 or so people.

The jeepney has also employed or given entrepreneurial businesses to thousands of men, making the jeepney operators and drivers' associations a formidable lobbying group.


These days, however, jeepneys are relegated to secondary streets, its days numbered.

In Makati City, the local goverment did one better by deploying Electric Jeepneys. And many towns now follow suit, replacing their jeepneys with electric versions.


About the insider
Pacita "Chit" Juan is the daughter of MD Juan Enterprises founder Maximo Juan. Juan is also president and co-founder of ECHOstore, a green retail store brand. Find out more about the jeepney and the rest of its other cousins among the military vehicles in Juan's book "JEEP NI JUAN: A History of the Jeep in the Philippines" available at National Bookstore and Powerbooks or online on Amazon.

Cover photo by Bien Bautista

Uploaded by Celia Nachura

Published on InFlight Traveller October to November 2011. Updated September 2016