Even before there was Lego or Transformers, Filipinos already had a penchant for creating anything by hand. Like the way a Japanese sword smith would mold a katana (samurai sword), Filipinos would also typically use only their hands in connecting each piece of their native crafts, the jeepney included.
King of the road: A jeepney plying along Aurora Boulevard (Photo by hellocris)
Jeepney, a cross between an American jeep and the Spanish horse-drawn carriage, is the most popular and cheapest means of transportation in the Philippines. It has become an icon of popular culture since it was invented out of surplus US military jeeps used in the Second World War. As a popular saying goes, “The jeepney can go to where Filipinos cannot.” True enough, jeepneys have been exported to at least 50 countries, including Africa and Dubai.
One of the biggest factories for first-generation (earliest) jeepneys was Sarao Motors in Las Piñas. Sarao was established in 1953 by Leonardo Sarao Sr., a calesa (horse-drawn carriage) driver who founded the business on a P700 ($15) capital borrowed from his mother. He then became a tycoon after 50 years of assembling custom-made jeepneys. Sarao jeepneys have even been given as gifts by Philippine presidents to other world leaders such as Pope John Paul II and Cuba’s Fidel Castro.
In 2000, however, the global economic crisis has taken its toll on Sarao, making it bow down to companies exporting more modern modes of transportation to the country. Despite this, Sarao still hard-headedly persists to construct jeepneys the old-fashioned way: by hand. Hence, even though it is now just operating on a small scale, Sarao is still open to tourists who are eager to know how jeepneys are being traditionally built. Like the Japanese katana, the process of making jeepneys is still being considered an art form—a skill of national pride being handed down from generation to generation.
Fees and opening hours
It is free to enter Sarao’s factory, which is open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday. For inquiries, contact telephone numbers (+632) 8747598 / 8747604 /8747554.
How to get there
Sarao Motors is in 249 Padre Diego Cera Ave., Pulang Lupa, Zapote, Las Piñas, near the Parish of St. Joseph, home of the Las Piñas Bamboo Organ. The best way to get there is through a private car or a taxi from anywhere in Manila (taxi flag down rate: P30).