How To Think Inside The Filipino Box

Image by
Image by

The UV Express is a form of public transport that operates alongside the jeepneys in some of the more populated areas of the Philippines. The idea behind it is simple: if you don’t like the discomfort of an hour-long commute to work on a jeepney, use the air-conditioned UV Express instead and pay a slightly higher fare.

What it is, basically, is an 8-seater compact MPV (like a Mitsubishi Adventure) that is made to seat 10 people, excluding the driver, car-sharing style. Two passengers sit beside the driver in the front, four in the middle, and four in the back.

Less the air-conditioning, the UV Express offers almost no improvement over the neolithic jeepneys. In the back, the passengers still sit facing each other jeepney style, but this time instead of being 2 feet from each others’ knees like in the jeepney, if you are a passenger the knees of the person in front of you nearly overlaps yours (or actually does; I can’t remember). You are forced to be awkwardly seated and awkwardly intimate with a complete stranger for the duration of the trip, unless you’re in the front and middle seats where the problem is not about awkwardness but being uncomfortably packed like sardines.

A few years ago came a possible solution to this problem. Government administrators began licensing bigger vehicles such as the Nissan Urvan and Toyota Hiace to operate as UV Express.  The good thing about these vehicles is that all of the seats face forward and they can accommodate not just 8 but 14 people comfortably. Add one or two more passengers, however, and someone will have to toil for the next hour trying balance his body inside a moving vehicle because he cannot lean on the back rest.

Image by:
Image by Summer Ramirez

If you think about it, this would be a great replacement for and a better alternative to both the jeepney and the 8-seater MPV because finally people can commute in comfort while still allowing the UV Express operators to take 14 paying passengers in one go.

But guess what? They forced it to seat 18 passengers. What these vehicle operators did was add a stool-like folding extension to the three middle rows, defiantly making each row a 4-seater.  As a result, the ones sitting on the makeshift seats have to fight their way through the trip with literally only one of their butt cheeks actually seated. Only the 2 front seats offer any sense of comfort, since even the back row is shoulder-and-hips jammed, no different from the MPV situation.

As if that is not enough, many of these new UV Express vehicles were eventually modified by the operators in such a way that the eight passengers in the back again sit facing each other jeepney style, using the hatch for the entrance and exit. What is already a more comfortable seat positioning, they made uncomfortable. For what reason they did that I’m not so sure.

Here is the thing. If this is a country populated by a more logical people, like say, the Germans, someone would have already thought about and implemented something along this line of reasoning:

“Alright, this is not good for us. I’m concerned about this because it affects hundreds of thousands of people. Many of these passengers are workers who spend 3 hours of commute each day, and they put up with it because they don’t have a better option. They need a comfortable ride. Heck if we don’t fix this now these workers will become stressed and unproductive at work and it will encourage many of them to buy their own cars. But we don’t want more cars to further congest our already congested narrow streets, do we? This is a problem that can be solved. It doesn’t even seem difficult to solve. Let’s do some brainstorming and implement the best solution.”


But since this country is peopled by individuals possessing a different nature, the train of thoughts among them goes something like this:

The passenger taking a ride home: “Bad luck, I was not able to take the front seat. It’s cramped here and this man sitting to my right is so insensitive. He has the back rest and I have to sit leaning forward. As if I’m not being squeezed here tight already. Duh! Hopefully I get home soon… You mean this sardine-packing policy is the problem? I did not realize that, but yes it is. But it’s just what it is. I don’t think this problem can be solved.”

The driver: “Problem? There’s no problem about the passengers’ comfort. It is what it is. The problem is the gas prices. The government should not let the price go up so we drivers don’t suffer.”

The UV Express operators: “No, it’s not a problem. The people are used to it. We need to maximize our profits. Do you even know how much we paid for the franchise to get this one vehicle going? It’s P200,000! We also have maintenance costs…”

The LTFRB administrators: “I don’t see it as a problem. It can be an uncomfortable ride but people are used to it. Our fleet of UV Express vehicles are enough to cater to the volume of passengers. All’s running smoothly for both jeepneys and UV Express.”

The mayor, congressman and governor: “I don’t have to face that problem. I use my own cars. I don’t think about it. There are more important things to be concerned about like these basketball gymnasiums we’re building in three of our barangays.”


This is an illustration of the Filipino box that I’m talking about. It is not conventional wisdom. It’s merely convention. Here convention loudly says, “It is what it is!”

But if you are able to think outside the Filipino box, you have the ability to see what the typical Filipino can’t see. It’s almost like a third eye.

Thinking outside the box is an essential tool in problem solving, but it’s also a great tool for spotting an opportunity to improve life and being concerned about it enough to try to address it. The Filipino barely uses it in all three applications.


If you think INSIDE the Filipino box, you cannot:

Spot a problem (in its positive sense, spot an opportunity to improve life)

-“I don’t think there’s any problem at all.”

Be concerned about the problem

-“It doesn’t need to be solved. There are more important things to be concerned about.”

Solve the problem

-“It cannot be solved.”


If you think outside the Filipino box, however, you should be able to:

Spot a problem

-“It’s not the man sitting next to me that’s giving me a hard time. It is the sardine-packing policy. It needs to be changed.”

-“This is not a 10-minute LRT ride. These trips usually last for at least an hour so comfort must be a big deal to the passengers.”

-“This affects hundreds of thousands of people. It’s problem enough. Let’s solve this because it’s a great opportunity to improve lives.”

Be concerned about the problem enough to try to solve it

-“This problem will encourage more private vehicle ownership and we’re having this enormous traffic problem already.”

-“These are workers who contribute to the economy. The less stressed they are going to work, the more productive they will be.”

-“The more stressed the general population is, the worse our society becomes. We are affected to some degree by each other’s stress.”

-“These are people too. If I am in their shoes and I have to do it everyday I’d probably feel just as bad. Why give them a hard time when it’s absolutely not necessary?”

Solve the problem

-“Now that bigger UV Express vehicles are plying our roads, let us enforce a strict ordinance that each such UV Express will be allowed to take only a certain maximum number of passengers. No more overloading is allowed for these bigger vehicles. For the smaller vehicles, they will be allowed to still take 10 passengers but this type of UV Express will eventually be phased out.”

-“Let us not allow any modifications that place UV Express seats sideways, then plan for a transition to vehicles that can transport more people in one go and where all the seats face onward, like a bus or a minibus. Such vehicles offer a more dignified and less stressful ride. This is how it should have been done a long time ago.”

-[Go ahead and suggest ideas in the comments sections down below]


If only one Filipino policymaker comes up with such a manner of reasoning, I would be surprised.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *