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

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.”


Police raid K-pop agency over alleged illegal gambling

Updated 17 August 2019

Police raid K-pop agency over alleged illegal gambling

  • Yang Hyun-suk founder and ex-chief producer of YG Entertainment, resigned after drug and sex scandals rocked the company
  • Local news reports said Yang was alleged to have engaged in ‘habitual and illegal gambling’

SEOUL: South Korean police raided one of the biggest K-pop management firms on Saturday as part of an investigation into music mogul Yang Hyun-suk’s alleged illicit gambling.
Yang, founder and ex-chief producer of YG Entertainment, resigned from his post in June after drug and sex scandals rocked the company since March.
He was placed under formal investigation by police earlier this week over allegations of gambling involving illicit cash exchange along with Seungri, a former member of YG’s highly popular band BIGBANG.
“We are trying to gather evidence on how (Yang) secured funds for gambling, and how many times the alleged gambling took place,” a Seoul police officer told AFP.
Local news reports said Yang was alleged to have engaged in “habitual and illegal gambling,” in locations including Macau and Las Vegas since the early 2000s.
Yang was also separately placed under investigation by police last month for allegedly arranging sex services for foreign investors back in 2014.
A member of the popular boy band Seo Tae Ji and Boys in the 1990s, Yang developed YG into a K-pop powerhouse with the success of idol groups such as BIGBANG and BLACKPINK.
The firm is now considered one of South Korea’s top three entertainment agencies alongside SM and JYP, and was behind the 2012 mega hit “Gangnam Style” by Psy that helped raise K-pop’s global profile.
But it has been in hot water since Yang and some of its stars were implicated in a spate of scandals.
Seungri, whose real name is Lee Seung-hyun, retired in March after being accused of arranging sex services for potential investors in his business.
In June, fellow YG artist Kim Han-bin, a member of boyband iKon, left the group amid allegations he had bought illegal drugs three years ago — in a case Yang is also accused of trying to cover up.
Earlier this year, a building owned by another YG star Daesung also came under investigation over an allegation that four of its tenants were involved with illicit sex and drug businesses.