The Philippine Jeepney: Heraldry Spaces and Functions

The Philippine jeepney is the most colorful transportation in metro Manila (Alliance Francaise postcards here, more flamboyant pictures at the Stuart Exchange here).  One reason for this is that they were made by Filipinos who gives the choice of painting to the owners (in the same way as they serve noodles separate from the seasonings).  So when the jeepney is bought, its bare silvery metal sheets makes it look like a medieval European knight in full plate armor.

In medieval warfare, knights distinguish each other using heraldry, which are pictures emblazoned in their shields.   Knights who cover their heraldry are called dark knights (c.f. batman), for no one knows who they are and where they came from.  When the gunpowder made the armor obsolete, the art of heraldry remained in the form of coat of arms.

The coat of arms is essentially a shield with two supporters (humans or beasts) on its left and right side.  On top of the shield is a helmet with a crest.  The motto may be seen above the crest or below the shield.  The shield is divided into several parts using a vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines.  Each part of the shield is a space for charge (a picture).  For example, the coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI shows a chalice-like shield with a tripartite division: a moor’s head on the dexter corner (right side of the bearer), a bear on the sinister corner (left side), and a scallop shell at the bottom.  Instead of a helmet is a bishop’s mitre; instead of supports, crossed keys.  A pallium hangs below the shield.  There is no papal motto written, but in his episcopal coat of arms it is ”Cooperatores Veritatis.”

The Philippine jeepney also uses a form of heraldry.  But because jeepney looks different from a medieval knight, we shall propose different ways of describing the jeepney’s heraldric devices.

The heraldry of the Philippine jeepney is divided into three divisions: front, side, and back.

The front consists of a dashboard on top of the window, a space below the window, and everything else on the jeepney’s front.  The dashboard, which doubles as a sun shield, describes the name of the jeepney.  It can be “Messenger,” “Rebel,” or “James and Jun.”  The space below the window is the tag line: “Gift of God” or “Mario loves Jane.”  On top of the engine cover is a statuette of a horse, an eagle, a trumpet–or even a real dear’s horn.  On the two sides near the front lights are posts for the crests that look like tails of horses; sometimes they are just bare posts grouped together to form whiskers like that of a cat.  Flash lamps of yellow are arrayed above the dashboard or on its sides.  The overall effect is gallantry–bold and sylish.

The side part of the jeepney consists of the driver’s door, the space between front and rear wheels, and the space above the rear wheel.  The driver’s door is the most intimate space.  Here is painted the driver himself, or his beautiful wife, or his children; sometimes you’ll see Mary or Christ, too.  The space between the wheels is flat space measuring about 1.5 feet by 3 feet.   This is the space for main heraldric charge for it dictates the mood of the overall jeepney.  The charge may be pictures of Aragorn, Britney Spears, or Our Lady of Manaoag; it may be also be a sports car, a fairie with unicorn, or a Zodiac sign (most common).  The space above the rear wheel is not ideal for portraits because of the bulging metals.  So this space is usually reserved for the title of the main portrait.

The back part of the jeepney consists of two top corners and one long board as mud shield.  The top corners measure 1 foot by 1 foot.  The pictures drawn here are usually similar or facing each other.  These pictures act like seals or post stamps.  The mudshield board is for the farewell speech like “God bless our trip” or a warning like “Distancia amigo” (Put some distance, my friend).  It can also be just another name like “Baluarte” (Bulwark) or “Tubong Tondo” (native of Tondo).

So the next time you ride a jeepney, look at its front, side, and back and study its heraldry.  Try to guess what sort of driver you are riding with and have some fun.


Mangyans of Mindoro: A Christmas Story

I.  Kuya Philip

Months ago Kuya Philip barged into my room in the Ionosphere building armed with a mop.

“Hi, Kuya,” I said.  “Is Kuya Randy not around?”

“No,” he said.  “I was asked to take his place for today.”  And he began to mop the floor.   This was unusual.  Kuya Philip normally fabricates rain gauges and DOAS (Differential Optical Absorption Spectroscopy) systems based on designs of a senior scientist of Manila Observatory.

“Is your brother still in Mindoro?”  he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“It has been a long time since we went to Mindoro,” he said.  “When we went there, we have to ask the permission of the Army Commander and the Bishop to install our rain gauges.”

“Otherwise, people will mistake you for communist guerrillas patrolling the mountains and installing land mines,” I said.  We laughed.

“Was the rain gauge you installed the one that transmits text messages to Manila Observatory?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.  “We need to estimate the amount of water soaked in the soil in real time, so that we can warn residents if a landslide may happen.”

“To prevent a landslide similar to that in Guinsaugon, Leyte?” I asked.

He nodded.

II.  Mangyans of Mindoro

“Are still Mangyans in Mindoro?” I asked.  “I read that they preserved their alphabet that dated back before the Spaniards came.  I have seen pictures of them etching poems on a bamboo stem.  They wear g-string.”

“There are still Mangyans,” he said, “but because of their contact with lowlanders, they already wear clothes like us.  They have their own way of writing, but many of them were not formally schooled.”

“The Mangyans have a deep respect for authority.  If the barangay captain is not around to approve our coming in their area, they will call a council of elders, with the eldest leading the council.  The resolution approved by the council leader is obeyed by all.

“Manila Observatory has a good name among the Mangyans because of John Ong.  John Ong’s friends made donations for the construction of three  school rooms for the Mangyans.”

“I know John Ong,” I said.  “He once gave a talk in the physics department entitled “Hydrology 101: How to Find Water.”  He was a tall, lanky, white guy that always smiled until his eyes vanished to slits.  He was very unassuming and soft-spoken.  I heard that he only asked for a working space in the Observatory to do his research.  That was a few years ago.  I haven’t seen him since.”

“He is abroad doing his Ph.D. work,” Kuya Philip said.  He mentioned the name of the University, but I forgot.  “The older Mangyans know John Ong; the younger ones have only heard his name.”

“The Mangyans are hardworking but poor,” Kuya Philip continued.  “A lowlander once asked a Mangyan to give him a bunch of bananas.  The Mangyan went up the mountain, got the bananas, and gave it to the lowlander.  But the lowlander said, ‘No. I prefer unripe bananas.’  The poor Mangyan was at a loss.  Since he does not want to go back to the mountains without money, he settled for a much lower price for his bananas.”

“The Mangyans have been exploited by the lowlanders.  To prevent this exploitation, the bishop helped the Mangyans in their trade.

“But the bishop complained that some Mangyans have adopted the lowlanders’s bad ways.  They  have learned to smoke cigarettes and drink liquor.  They became lazy.

“The Mangyans have a strong stamina in mountain climbing.  I once saw of group of Mangyans playing basketball in the noon day sun.  I asked them, ‘Why are playing under the hot sun?  Where did you come from.’  They said that they came from the other side of the mountain.  They left a day ago before the cock crowed and they just arrived at that hour at noon to play.”

I shooked my head.  “Unbelievable.”

III.  Mangyan Christmas

“Christmas is a happy time for the Mangyans,” Kuya Philip said.  “They would go down the mountains and join the lowlanders.  They like the sounds and lights, the festivity.  They beg for money from the lowlanders and they are given peso coins in exchange for a dance or a song.  This means that they can live their day without working, just begging.  So they encamp in churches and City Halls and the places become filthy.

“The bishop is not happy with this.  He told the Mangyans not to go down to the city anymore during Christmas.

“But some Mangyans objected.  ‘Bishop,’ they said, ‘do we not also have a right to be happy during Christmas?’

“‘Yes,’ the bishop said, ‘you have a right to be happy.  But many already complained about your behaviors in the city. So from now on, you will not anymore go down there during Christmas.  Instead, I will bring food and gifts for you here in the mountains.”  The Mangyans nodded in agreement.  And to this day, this is how the Mangyans celebrate their Christmas.”


Here is a related article: “Group seeks end to Mangyan begging” by Madonna Virola, Southern Luzon Bureau (Philippine Daily Inquirer 12/24/2008).