*By Jimma Luz Totesora
As I settled myself comfortably inside a Miagao jeepney, I began to wonder why there is such a difference between the jeepneys of Iloilo and those of my hometown. I thought that the Philippines is dominated by Sarao jeepneys only. But here in Iloilo, the jeepneys have smooth and curved edges, and they are longer and wider compared to the average Sarao jeepney, thus, they can accommodate more passengers in a single trip. To me, Ilonggo jeepneys look more like private vans than PUJs.
I headed to a shop called Pasajero Sosyal for some answers. People have told me that it is a famous maker of modern-looking Ilonggo jeepneys. So, I went to Pavia. At first, I was lost because the jeepney driver dropped me at the wrong place. It has a big sign Pasajero Sosyal in front but it was a dark, empty warehouse that greeted me. I suspected that they transferred to another location so I rode another jeepney and asked the driver to lead me to the “real” shop. And he did.
Mrs. Elena Giralao, the sales manager warmly greeted me and led the way to their main office. She was kind enough to entertain me since the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Sotelo, weren’t there. According to her, Pasajero Sosyal emerged in 1992 with the name Miag-ao Car Care Services in Mambatad, Miag-ao.
“Why Pasajero Sosyal?” I asked. Mrs. Elena laughed at the question. She told me that the owner saw the phrase “pasajero sosyal” on one of the jeepneys in Cebu. Mr. Sotelo liked the phrase that he adopted it. He thinks that the word is appropriate for his jeepney fabrication business.
Mr. Ramon Sotelo used to be a warehouse employee. As a sideline, he worked as a car mechanic. When the number of his customers started increasing, he quit his job in the warehouse and focused on upgrading jeepneys. In 1992, he and his wife, Mrs. Lonie Sotelo, began to take few orders. In 1995, orders escalated. Pasajero Sosyal jeepneys were starting to get more attention. It became immensely popular because the quality of the streamlined product is very good and these could be bought at a very reasonable price. It’s was a good deal for people who want to venture in the PUJ business.
From Mambatad, Miagao, Pasajero Sosyal decided to transfer to Sta. Barbara and again, to Mali-ao, Pavia, closer to the city to accommodate more customers in the Northern and Central part of Iloilo.
Pasajero Sosyal jeepneys can easily be distinguished by looking at the jeepney’s hood. As the owners’ son said, their shop uses headlights and bumpers from expensive cars like Honda CR-V and even Toyota Fortuner. These things give an identity to the jeepneys. It makes them look “sosyal” enough to be called unique. Aside from that, the hood of a Pasajero Sosyal jeepney look like the hood of branded pick-ups and vans such as Toyota Hilux or a Nissan Frontier.
Its body is wide enough for twenty (20) people to fit in and its exterior contains airbrushed designs reflecting Ilonggo culture. Of course, who could forget the name “Pasajero Sosyal” in cursive writing on its lower part, to complete the look of this contemporary Ilonggo jeepney.
A Pasajero Sosyal jeepney these days ranges from 500 to 600 thousand pesos. Every two years, new models come out. The unique designs are made by their son, Mr. Ramil Sotelo, who also inherited his father’s interest in automotives. He holds car shows in SM City to display Pasajero Sosyal’s new models of jeepneys. Pasajero Sosyal has also exported products to Papua, New Guinea.
Pasajero Sosyal jeepneys symbolize the Ilonggos’ creativity, uniqueness and their perseverance to create something that promotes Ilonggo pride.