How the coronavirus is putting the brakes on Manila's famous Jeepney taxis

Jeepneys. Image: Deutsche Welle
Jeepneys. Image: Deutsche Welle

• At the end of WW2 the United States left Jeep vehicles behind in the Philippines.

• The US and the Philippines fought the Japanese in what's known as the Philippines Campaign in 1941. 

• The army Jeeps were converted into taxis by locals and now the government wants to phase them out.

75 years ago the Second World War ended and the world inevitably changed forever, One of the battles from that period is known as the Philippines Campaign that lasted from 8 December 1941 to 8 May 1942.

United States and Philippines forces battled the invasion of the country by the Japanese. The Land of the Rising conquered the islands and over 100 000 Filipino soldiers lost their lives as well as 23 000 US soldiers. 

Along with the personnel that arrived in the archipelagic country in Southeast Asia were tens of thousands of Jeeps.

The 4x4 vehicles never returned to the US after WW2 and the locals converted them into taxis. Referred to as Jeepneys, they are mostly built from WW2-era Jeeps and are icons of the densely populated capital city. 

They are told apart by colourful bodywork and are driven by men who have been in the industry for decades, like Rogelio Casandig. He has been a Jeepney driver for 15 years. 

Drivers can usually expect to work long hours, with a starting time of 6am and finishing as late as 10pm or 11pm. 

But the livelihood of these men are in jeopardy as the government plans to remove the Jeepneys from the transport system. 

Casandig only takes a break to pee or eat he says. He is one of the many drivers who rent the old vehicles and compete with other Jeepney drivers for customers across the 685 routes. 

The rear of the Jeepney houses the passengers and they sit either side of two benches. Casandig says eight people are able to sit on each side, and seven if there are one or two heavier passengers. 

In a city like Manila with lots of traffic, the drivers spend a lot of time stuck in bumper to bumper gridlock. Casandig says this eats into the money he makes as it is used up by topping up the Jeepney's fuel tank. 

After expenses drivers can earn around R280 a day. 

Because the country is in a tropical climate and located in the Western Pacific ocean it is susceptible to torrential downpours that brings traffic to standstill due to flooding. 

"When it rains, it floods! Nothing moves then. You'll get hungry. You'll really need to pee and just have to hold it in.You can't do anything about it," Casandig says. 

The vehicles are the lifeblood of low-cost transport in the city, but there existence is threatened by pollution and the coronavirus. 

It's virtually impossible to be socially-distant in the Jeepney and the Philippine government wants to eradicate cash payments for hygiene reasons.

Casandig says it will be hard for drivers to survive if the government's phasing out of Jeepneys comes to fruition. 

"It ain't the Philippines if there are no Jeeps," he concludes.  

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