History of land transport in the Philippines (4/4)



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6. The Marcos era (1966-1986)

The infamous Marcos era from 1966 to 1986, including the 14 years of fascist dictatorship, saw the further worsening of semi-colonial and semi-feudal system despite superficial indicators of economic growth. Viewed as factors for changes in the transportation system, the overall trends established in the past period continued. These include a fast-growing population and chaotic urbanization, the dominance of export-oriented production amid the exhaustion of frontiers, deepening semi-feudalism, and rural stagnation devoid of real industrialization.

Marcos’ so-called 11 industrial projects were mostly failures. His ambitious economic program led only to more export-oriented processing in EPZ’s in selected urban or near-urban areas in addition to intensified mining, logging, plantations, foreign-funded mega-infrastructure projects (Chico dam, BNPP), a continuous nationwide tourism campaign, and the so-called Green Revolution that claimed to increase farm productivity at precisely that time when landless peasants could no longer open new frontiers.

The rise of the revolutionary movement must also be mentioned as a general factor that influenced certain concentrations of infrastructure development. Massive militarization, in particular, demanded rapid access to interior areas where the CPP-NPA’s guerrilla fronts were gaining strength.

All these meant an unprecedentedly massive national infrastructure program of building highways and roads, bridges, ports, airports, and related power, water, flood control, and other facilities. The NLEX, SLEX, and Maharlika Highway and associated public works and feeder roads were basically completed during this period. Road building went hand in hand with the massive importation of assembled and CKD cars and trucks.

The Comprehensive Car Manufacturing Program, implemented during this period, resulted in certain parts of the long car production process—mainly chassis and body building—being located at the Bataan EPZ. The result was cheap so-called “Asian Utility Vehicles” (AUV) such as the Ford Fiera, Toyota Tamaraw, and GM Harabas, which became the workhorse delivery vans as well as alternative jeepney make for the next decades.

Marcos could credibly boast of a greatly expanded infrastructure and transport development during his 20-year regime, but their essential impact was to better serve the semicolonial and semifeudal system and to generate immense profits for the ruling classes and as well as humongous sources of monopolized corruption for the Marcos-Romualdez fascist autocratic clique.

In 1975, Marcos decreed the creation of Metro Manila (composed then of four cities and 13 municipalities, and later renamed as NCR), and created the Metropolitan Manila Commission (MMC) to manage the region. At first glance, the Marcos plan for NCR was a grand showcase for urban planning supported by Imelda’s Ministry of Human Settlements, a technocrat’s dream where everything had its own proper place.

The network of old highways and roads around and within Metro Manila was neatly reworked into a systematic grid of circumferential roads (C1 to C6) and radial roads (R1 to R10). This was adopted supposedly as a strategic and rational framework for transport and regulated land use plans. Marcos also created the Metropolitan Manila Transit Corp. (MMTC) by decree in 1974, declaring that it was state policy to rationalize and integrate public transportation services. (Note: The MMTC would be one of the very few and modest Marcos-era successes appreciated by urban commuters. It would outlive the regime, surviving as a transport workers’ cooperative until it was choked to death by the private bus cartel.)

Throughout the 20 years of Marcos rule, six major urban transport studies were conducted, all of them resulting in important recommendations on setting up a rational mass transport system to improve Metro Manila traffic and solve its transport woes. These were UTSMMA (1971-73); MMETROPLAN (1976-77); MMUTIP (1980-81); MMUTSTRAP (1982-83); JUMSUT 1 (1982-84); and JUMSUT 2 (1984-85). But such repeated recommendations were taken half-heartedly or only to the extent that the projects benefited Marcos, Imelda, their relatives and cronies. LRT Line 1, for example, was planned in the mid-1970s but began operations only in 1984.

The underlying semi-feudal system continued to generate the same factors—landlessness, stagnant countryside, migration to the cities, urban congestion and chaotic management, lack of regular jobs, and so on—that worsened Metro Manila transport woes despite the ambitious Marcos-MMC programs.

7. Jeepney as “King of the Road”

The rise of the jeepney, eventually to become “King of the Road” by the 1960s and 1970s, is an excellent case study of a mostly spontaneous effort among the people and small entrepreneurs to innovate on existing technology and common traditions to solve the lack of formal transport services in the aftermath of the destructive war and the chaotic early post-war years.

The PUJ continued to evolve, from the original US Willys military jeep in the early postwar years to bigger-capacity Sarao-type chassis and bodies in the 1960s, to Japan-made diesel engines (becoming popular after the 1973 oil crunch) and AUV-type vehicles (Tamaraw, Fiera, etc) and medium-size trucks (e.g. Isuzu Elf, Mitsubishi L300). The jeepney also boasted other technical innovations that allowed it to carry heavier payloads, ply rugged and unpaved mountain roads, and ford river crossings.

The same hybrid technology also branched out into the locally fabricated minibus, which ably served Metro Manila’s connection with adjacent provinces, becoming very popular in routes to Cavite, Eastern Rizal and Bulacan. Similar minibus lines that used these locally fabricated vehicles covered inter-provincial routes in some regions (e.g. Amianan in the Ilocos region).

The jeepneys (and locally assembled minibuses, to some extent) continued to expand their coverage throughout the Marcos years. They even took over routes that were earlier dominated by major bus lines, despite persistent government attempts to phase out the jeepney and actually banning it from major highways such as EDSA. Government and big business practically did not extend any support to further develop the jeepney and local minibus into a more rational mode of mass transport that could serve as efficient localized systems and as effective feeders to bigger mass transport systems such as railways and long-haul bus lines. Rather, the government tolerated the jeepney as a source of revenue via franchise, registration and other fees.

Also from the early 1970s onwards, while the PUJs and PUBs dominated the highways and main urban thoroughfares, cheaper Japanese motorcycle brands were increasingly dumped into the Philippines and turned into motorized tricycles. Thus, the tricycle gradually became popular and quickly replaced the pedicabs, horse-drawn calesas, and small AC’s in towns and urban communities or subdivisions with streets too narrow or routes too varied for PUJs and PUBs to ply.

Similarly, in much of Luzon’s coastal and island peripheries, most of the Visayas and Palawan-Mindoro, Mindanao coastal areas, and Sulu, fast motorized bancas driven by cheap imported second-hand diesel truck engines (e.g. Volvo, Isuzu) became the most popular mode of transport. To some degree, the same factors led to the gradual replacement of horses and carabao-pulled wooden carts and sleds in many rural areas by wheeled and fabricated farm transport pulled by Kubota/Kuliglig and so-called habal-habal. (Note: As if further proof was further needed of the innovative capacity of the masses, the defunct or barely used PNR rails in Southern Luzon soon served a bewildering variety of community-based, makeshift, and manually operated handcars.)

The business of owning and operating jeepneys, motorized bancas, tricycles, habal-habal and kuliglig for passenger and freight service became a popular small-scale investment among the urban and rural petty bourgeoisie, including balikbayan OFWs who had saved up modest amounts of capital. Driving them became a typical part-time or full-time gainful employment for landless and unemployed or underemployed people in both urban and rural areas. National-bourgeois and petty-bourgeois businesses comprised an entire semi-formal industry which took care of fabricating vehicle bodies; reconditioning, reassembly, overhaul and repair of engines and transmissions; machining of spare parts; trade in parts and accessories; and so on. Examples are Sarao, Francisco, Amianan, and Lippad Motors. (Note: It would be interesting to study the specific political economy of minibus, jeepney, tricycle, motorized banca and kuliglig fabrication, and the role of the national bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie in these lines of semi-manufacturing/assembly.)

Like the earlier case of the jeepney, the case of the tricycle, motorized banca, and kuliglig are innovations that came from the people themselves (including small entrepreneurs), which proved to be so popular and resilient that the government had no choice but to regulate them, to periodically launch campaigns to constrict them, and in the process, to extract government revenue through all kinds of fees, charges and penalties from their small-scale builders, operators, owners and drivers/pilots.

Any progressive plan for public mass transport should take these homegrown and popular modes of transport into account, not only because of social-justice considerations (as source of livelihood for otherwise poor unemployed people) but also as vibrant source of technical and social innovations in providing transport service to otherwise unserved or underserved communities. # nordis.net


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