“Do you have angkot in the Philippines?” asked a colleague several months ago.

“We have something similar,” was my brief reply.

This exchange is common in my daily dealings with my Indonesian colleagues. There’s this comparison of objects, words, and whatnot that I surmise was a way to situate me and get a picture of how life is in the Philippines. For example, in terms of language, a multitude of words are similar such as words for umbrella, bowl, to stab, and even that Latin word gratis. Then there is there public transportation. We have the public buses and the taxis, but not the motorcycle-for-hire, or ojek as it is known in Indonesia, that ferries customers to any destination in the area. The motorcycle in the Philippines is a privately owned vehicle. However, there is one public vehicle that is both similar and different at the same time.

The angkot from Ambon in Moluccas

The angkot from Ambon in Moluccas

One is definitely Indonesian and one is definitely Filipino. The angkot, a very Indonesian form of transportation, is the Filipino version of the jeepney, to put it one way or vice-versa. Depending on where you are in Indonesia, the angkot can be a well-maintained vehicle or as run-down as it could possibly get. I discovered on a recent trip to Ambon in Moluccas that its angkot is very clean, shiny, and blasting loudly with music. A huge speaker is usually place at the back of the passenger’s cabin which could wreck one’s eardrums unless you tell the driver to lessen the volume of the radio. The angkot is a good alternative to hiring SUVs when the latter is fully booked and you need to get around the island. The angkot in Bekasi pales in comparison particularly the ones that are numbered 26 and 05A. The seats are worn out, the inside is dirty, and the windows are stuck so you’re stewing in an oven. It’s really not your day if your driver has got ants in his pants!

The Philippine jeepney somewhere in Manila

The Philippine jeepney somewhere in Manila

Meanwhile, the jeepney is a reworked version of the US military jeep. In its heydays, it was decorated to the point that it made it difficult for the driver to see through the windshield because of the bric-a-brac on the hood. All that remains are the cheeky signs inside that put a grin on any bored commuter. The jeeps are longer than the angkot readily sitting 24 passengers at one trip or a much tighter squeeze when the barker is persuasive. At times, passengers who don’t want to wait for the next one just hang on from the entrance.

The payment system is distinctly different. The angkot passenger pays once he/she alights. For the jeepney, payment is made once the passenger boards and if you’re far from the driver the payment and change are passed down the passenger line. Sadly for the jeepney driver, there have been cases of passengers jumping off and skipping payment, and even petty theft (i.e. phone and jewellery snatching.)

Hanging on from a jeepney is an option when you really need to get going.

Hanging on from a jeepney is an option when you really need to get going.

Tight squeeze or not, clean or not, the angkot and jeepney provide an economical alternative to the cab where the fare remains constant unlike the cab’s meter that keeps running even when traffic stalls. The only downside is when it’s pouring buckets.


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