Philippine ‘jeepney’ artists stalked by extinction

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Jeepney artist Vic Capuno, based in San Pablo town south of Manila, now paint just three of four of the public transport vehicles a month after demand has fallen. (AFP)
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Jeepney artist Vic Capuno, based in San Pablo town south of Manila, now paint just three of four of the public transport vehicles a month after demand has fallen. (AFP)
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Jeepneys, hand-painted with custom images of everything from Batman to babies, as well as disco lights and chrome wheels, have for decades provided cheap transport for millions. (AFP)
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Jeepneys, hand-painted with custom images of everything from Batman to babies, as well as disco lights and chrome wheels, have for decades provided cheap transport for millions. (AFP)
Updated 28 January 2019
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Philippine ‘jeepney’ artists stalked by extinction

  • ‘This is an act of treachery against fellow Filipinos’
  • Jeepneys are highly polluting, and the Philippines is desperate to improve air quality in its traffic-clogged cities

MANILA: Bernardo de la Cruz casts his eyes around the nearly silent workshop where he used to toil overtime hand-painting custom decor on jeepneys, the singularly Philippine minibuses facing the scrapheap.
These rolling art galleries adorned with images of everything from Batman to babies, as well as disco lights and chrome wheels, have for decades provided cheap transport for millions.
But pollution and safety concerns have led to a modernization program, with jeepneys 15 years or older to be taken off the streets by 2020.
“This is an act of treachery against fellow Filipinos,” said de la Cruz. “This is a uniquely Filipino product. We were born with it.”
When he began 45 years ago, there were hundreds of artists giving the vehicles their famously boisterous paint jobs. Now there are estimated to be fewer than a dozen left.
He has seen orders decline from a high of up to 80 a month in the 1980s to just one or two now.
His canvas is being replaced by eco-jeepneys, powered by electricity or lower-polluting diesel motors.
Riders of old jeepneys currently have to climb in through a hatch in the rear, cramming into the benches inside with no respite from the heat and roadside pollution.
The jeepney’s successor is being billed as a big improvement.
It has doors, individual seats, air-conditioning, and enough height to stand up.
But it will be mass-produced and look just like a public bus.
Skipping over the jeepney’s bespoke production process in small workshops means a loss of the individual style and flair that made them global symbols of the Philippines.
“It’s one of the most genuine forms of modern folk art that we have,” Bernie Sim, a Manila-based graphic designer and co-author of a 2014 book on jeepney art, said.
French fashion designer Christian Louboutin launched a jeepney-themed handbag collection last year, while Swedish furniture giant Ikea painted a jeepney in its signature blue and yellow to announce plans to open a Philippine store.
But the vehicles, which were first made from leftover US jeeps after World War II, have been on borrowed time for years.
Jeepneys are highly polluting, and the Philippines is desperate to improve air quality in its traffic-clogged cities.
Their drivers are also notorious for ignoring traffic rules, and the vehicles have few safety features.
On top of that, Manila ushered in Internet-based ride-sharing services in 2014, and three years later President Rodrigo Duterte said the jeepney must evolve or disappear.
“They have all but stopped making jeepneys,” said 52-year-old jeepney artist Vic Capuno, based in San Pablo town south of Manila.
As a result, he and a colleague at Armak Motors now paint just three of four jeepneys a month.
De la Cruz worked on nine in the last year. He’s the only painter left at Manila’s Sarao Motors, once the country’s biggest producer.
Two of his siblings were also jeepney artists, but they died from diseases he believes were caused by years inhaling fumes from the paint.
Yet he is still passionate about the vehicle’s importance in Philippine history.
“When the jeepney disappears a piece of Filipino culture will also die,” de la Cruz warned.
A self-taught painter, he was inspired by the work of renowned local artists such Carlos Francisco and Fernando Amorsolo.
His jeepney designs, still seen on the streets for now, chronicle the rapidly changing landscape of his home — Las Pinas — from a farming and salt-making backwater into a highly urbanized area.
“It’s a pleasing sight. It brings us back to a time and place that is no more,” said de la Cruz.
After raising four children on the pay earned painting, he now also creates canvases and makes storefront signs as a sideline.
He conceded he could have a decent life without the jeepneys, but was heartbroken by the government’s decision.
“I would like to appeal to the authorities not to outlaw it,” de la Cruz said. “At times I cry quietly when I think about what is happening.”


One million species risk extinction due to humans: draft UN report

Updated 23 April 2019
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One million species risk extinction due to humans: draft UN report

  • Biodiversity loss and global warming are closely linked, according to the 44-page Summary for Policy Makers
  • Delegates from 130 nations meeting in Paris from April 29 will vet the executive summary line-by-line

PARIS: Up to one million species face extinction due to human influence, according to a draft UN report obtained by AFP that painstakingly catalogues how humanity has undermined the natural resources upon which its very survival depends.
The accelerating loss of clean air, drinkable water, CO2-absorbing forests, pollinating insects, protein-rich fish and storm-blocking mangroves — to name but a few of the dwindling services rendered by Nature — poses no less of a threat than climate change, says the report, set to be unveiled May 6.
Indeed, biodiversity loss and global warming are closely linked, according to the 44-page Summary for Policy Makers, which distills a 1,800-page UN assessment of scientific literature on the state of Nature.
Delegates from 130 nations meeting in Paris from April 29 will vet the executive summary line-by-line. Wording may change, but figures lifted from the underlying report cannot be altered.
“We need to recognize that climate change and loss of Nature are equally important, not just for the environment, but as development and economic issues as well,” Robert Watson, chair of the UN-mandated body that compiled the report, said, without divulging its findings.
“The way we produce our food and energy is undermining the regulating services that we get from Nature,” he said, adding that only “transformative change” can stem the damage.
Deforestation and agriculture, including livestock production, account for about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, and have wreaked havoc on natural ecosystems as well.
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report warns of “an imminent rapid acceleration in the global rate of species extinction.”
The pace of loss “is already tens to hundreds of times higher than it has been, on average, over the last 10 million years,” it notes.
“Half-a-million to a million species are projected to be threatened with extinction, many within decades.”
Many experts think a so-called “mass extinction event” — only the sixth in the last half-billion years — is already under way.
The most recent saw the end of the Cretaceous period some 66 million years ago, when a 10-kilometer-wide asteroid strike wiped out most lifeforms.
Scientists estimate that Earth is today home to some eight million distinct species, a majority of them insects.
A quarter of catalogued animal and plant species are already being crowded, eaten or poisoned out of existence.
The drop in sheer numbers is even more dramatic, with wild mammal biomass — their collective weight — down by 82 percent.
Humans and livestock account for more than 95 percent of mammal biomass.
“If we’re going to have a sustainable planet that provides services to communities around the world, we need to change this trajectory in the next ten years, just as we need to do that with climate,” noted WWF chief scientist Rebecca Shaw, formerly a member of the UN scientific bodies for both climate and biodiversity.
The direct causes of species loss, in order of importance, are shrinking habitat and land-use change, hunting for food or illicit trade in body parts, climate change, pollution, and alien species such as rats, mosquitoes and snakes that hitch rides on ships or planes, the report finds.
“There are also two big indirect drivers of biodiversity loss and climate change — the number of people in the world and their growing ability to consume,” said Watson.
Once seen as primarily a future threat to animal and plant life, the disruptive impact of global warming has accelerated.
Shifts in the distribution of species, for example, will likely double if average temperature go up a notch from 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) to 2C.
So far, the global thermometer has risen 1C compared with mid-19th century levels.
The 2015 Paris Agreement enjoins nations to cap the rise to “well below” 2C. But a landmark UN climate report in October said that would still be enough to boost the intensity and frequency of deadly heatwaves, droughts, floods and storms.
Other findings in the report include:
- Three-quarters of land surfaces, 40 percent of the marine environment, and 50 percent of inland waterways across the globe have been “severely altered.”
- Many of the areas where Nature’s contribution to human wellbeing will be most severely compromised are home to indigenous peoples and the world’s poorest communities that are also vulnerable to climate change.
- More than two billion people rely on wood fuel for energy, four billion rely on natural medicines, and more than 75 percent of global food crops require animal pollination.
- Nearly half of land and marine ecosystems have been profoundly compromised by human interference in the last 50 years.
- Subsidies to fisheries, industrial agriculture, livestock raising, forestry, mining and the production of biofuel or fossil fuel energy encourage waste, inefficiency and over-consumption.
The report cautioned against climate change solutions that may inadvertently harm Nature.
The use, for example, of biofuels combined with “carbon capture and storage” — the sequestration of CO2 released when biofuels are burned — is widely seen as key in the transition to green energy on a global scale.
But the land needed to grow all those biofuel crops may wind up cutting into food production, the expansion of protected areas or reforestation efforts.