It is unimaginable to live in the Philippines without ever riding in a jeepney. Indeed, jeepneys have become a national symbol in the six decades since it first appeared. The story of Sarao Motors is a story of survival and resiliency – a reflection of the society it is very much a part of. We can’t say the same thing about the rickshaws of Japan and Singapore. Who would have thought that war-torn American military jeeps can be developed into a mass transport vehicle?
While it is impossible to say who really pioneered that innovation in the Philippines (securing patents is still unheard of back then), there is no doubt that Sarao Motors Inc. (INC) played a major role in popularizing jeepneys among Filipinos. Founded by legendary Filipino entrepreneur Leonardo Sarao, the iconic company has become synonymous with Philippine jeepneys. In fact, its 2.5 hectare assembly plant in Las Pinas City has become a tourist spot of sorts.
However, several factors the past two decades, particularly the higher cost of imported spare parts, coupled with the weakening of peso against the dollar as well as state mandated wage hikes, adversely affected Sarao Motors. In year 2000, a teary-eyed Mang Nardo announced SMI’s closure in national television. Sarao Motors’ brief closure happened at a time when then-President Joseph Estrada was besieged by a political crisis that eventually ended his administration.
As a news junkie, I remember how the broadcast media reported on that back then. It is as if the entire Philippine economy would follow in Sarao Motors’ fate! That was the last time the company has been written about at length by the local media. Neither the company’s resumption of operations nor Mang Nardo’s death in July 31, 2001 was able to get adequate news coverage.
I was surprised that Philippine Daily Inquirer did not carry any story about Mang Nardo even after five days since his death though his passing was announced in their Obituary section (thanks to my friend Katrina Cabiladas for researching on this). It explains why you can’t find on the Internet any information about this.
I won’t be surprised if some people out there are still thinking that Sarao Motors have shut down operations for good. To quote my story lead, the company is still running, but in a slower speed – in other words, it has greatly downsized its operations. And despite persistent calls for the phasing out of jeepneys, I firmly believe they are here to stay (a view shared by Ed Sarao, the fourth son of Mang Nardo).
It is a big honor for me to be able to write about a major part of contemporary Philippine history. With much pride, I am sharing to all of you my second published story, this time courtesy of Vera Files. Remember the story of ex-presidential son Mikey Arroyo having a home in the San Francisco Bay Area in California? Vera Files investigated that.
My special thanks to Mam Yvonne Chua (my journalism mentor and thesis adviser) and Ms Ellen Tordesillas for believing that this story is worth publishing and distributing. Vera Files was founded by a group of veteran female journalists “taking a deeper look in current Philippine issues.” Aside from being posted in VeraFiles.org, the story also appeared in Yahoo News Philippines. Enjoy reading!