EXPLAINER: Questions the Cebu City Council must address before passing Jun Alcover ordinance on 'tartanillas' and 'kutseros.' City to spend P1M a year for horses’ meds. Industry is dying, notes Joy Young.

WHAT JUST HAPPENED. The Cebu City Council Thursday, December 1, 2022, approved the report of the committee on laws and styling about the proposed ordinance that aims for continued operation of “tartanillas” and boost the livelihood of “kutseros” and horse owners.

Filed by Councilor Pastor “Jun” Alcover last October 5, 2022, the ordinance next will be calendared for discussion by the local legislative body.

In tackling the ordinance, the councilors will face issues, which aren’t as seismic as the planned omnibus increase in taxes or the P50-billion budget for 2023, but will grab attention as well. Those are:

[1] TARTANILLA’S ‘DYING’ BUSINESS. The tartanilla dates back to the Spanish colonization of the country in the 1700s. It was the major public and private transportation until the early 20th century.

The tartanillas – two-wheeled and horse-drawn and can seat four passengers – were considered Cebu City’s “kings of the road” in the 1940s and 1950s, even after the end of World War II when motorized vehicles were introduced.

As jeepneys and buses increased their presence, the tartanillas were steadily relegated to the city’s side streets, until early 2000 when City Ordinance No. 67 limited the rigs’ route to the streets of Pasil, Taboan and Duljo, patronized mostly by vendors who’d take their goods to the market.

Last Thursday, Councilor Alcover told the City Council there are about a hundred of them left, with only half of them still in active business. It wasn’t clear if there are only 50 horses or tartanillas still running. Alcover said the “kutseros” take turns on the street. “Nagkahilis na sila. Gi-limit pa gyud ang ilang agianan,” Alcover said last October, referring to the tartanillas’ decrease in number and route restrictions.

Councilor Rey Gealon, chairman of the committee on laws, said the ordinance purposes are three-pronged: tourism, livelihood of “kutseros,” and animal welfare. Councilor Joy Young noted that it’s “a dying industry,” apparently wondering if it still requires more regulation than it already has under existing ordinances.

[2] TARTANILLA BY ANY OTHER NAME. How’s the tartanilla in Alcover’s proposed ordinance called?

Councilor Jocelyn Pesquera said the rig is widely known as ”tartanilla.” She asked, why use the Tagalog “kalesa” when there’s a popular local name for it? Councilors Jose Abellanosa and Phillip Zafra said the rigs are known as “parada” (and their drivers “paradista”). Councilor Gealon told Explainer Friday (December 2, 2022) that proponent Alcover is “bent” on using the term “kalesa.”

But “kalesa” was the term for the private-owned, almost totally covered carriage, not the open-on-the-sides public transport. Besides, “tartanilla” has always been associated with Cebu. And Cebu Channel Online says “kalesa” in Iloilo is “karatela” in Manila, although in the Ryan Cayabyab song “Mamang Kutsero,” he calls the “kutsero” rig as “kalesa.”

Who has used the name tartanilla? Former commuters who remember those days when tartanilla was king of the road. Students and researchers in their term papers on Cebu’s transportation icon. Writers of features about the tartanilla in such media outlets as Rappler and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ). And of course, former councilors who used the term in the early city ordinances they wrote to regulate the tartanilla.

To them, it has been “tartanilla,” not “parada” or “kalesa.”

[3] SYMBOLISM, TOURISM PROGRAM. A Cebu Normal University (CNU) study in 2015 noted that despite the diminishing presence of the tartanilla, “its social value reflects the socio-economic life of the Sugboanons and Karaang Sugbo.”

To the present generation, the study said, the tartanilla is “symbolism of a vibrant socio-cultural life of the early Cebuanos.” “Reminiscing it is not enough” but we must “develop a wider perspective in assimilating consciousness for the love of place and sense of pride in being a Cebuano.” [From “Tartanilla: A Symbolism of Cebuano Transportation Heritage,” ResearchGate.net, a paper by Benita Manugas, Maylen Recto, Denise Mariel Sollano and Reynaldo Bontuyan Inocian.]

That symbolism may be showcased and enhanced by a tourism program for the tartanillas, which the ordinance wants the Department of Tourism to promote. That calls for a review of the routes and the time of the tours, in coordination with CCTO or Cebu City Traffic Office.

[4] HELP FOR HORSES, DRIVERS. The councilor’s proposal includes help for the “kutseros,” and the “kabayos,” among them: seminars for the horse-owners/drivers on the care of horses by the Department of Veterinary Medicine and vitamins for the animals.

Horse owners and drivers are expected to benefit economically from the increase in business activity from the tourism program and perhaps expansion of its range of travel without adding to the traffic congestion in most streets of the city.

[5] IMPLEMENTATION, REGULATION. A bit obscured by other concerns is the matter of implementation. Much of the work is given to the CTO, which is assigned several tasks, notably the review of the tartanilla’s routes and, with the tourism department, making the rigs “presentable” and the horses “healthy to look at.”

Past City Councils had been strictly regulating the operation of tartanillas because of the downside of having the rigs and the horses, including hazard to traffic (at times hard-to-control horses) and risk to health (estimated 5,000 kilos of manure, as of 1958, scattered daily in the city).

Aside from plate number and a fare matrix ordered under the Alcover ordinance are safety devices such as “reflectorized” stickers, lanterns or lamps, and cleaning kits, “including pan, broom, squeegee and pail.” The CTO and tourism people are presumed to enforce all that.

The proposed ordinance even sets a schedule of fares, with the minimum rate of P10 per person and P200 for a package tour, and terminals for regular trips (both sides of Leon Kilat Street) and tourist trips (open space beside Parian monument).

[6] COST AND BENEFIT. It will cost the City “P1 million annually, charged to the general fund” to buy vitamins or medicines for the horses.

No amount is appropriated for the city’s CTO and the tourism department but their expanded activities for the tartanilla project may require additional funds in their separate budgets.

The economic benefit is still to be quantified, depending on the boost to tourism the tartanillas and horses will make and the possible improvement of livelihood of 50-to-100 horse owners and drivers.

[7] HEAVY SELLING POINT of the ordinance could be the “harnessing” of the tartanilla as added feature to the local tourism program. Councilor Gealon said that once the heritage district – Colon, Parian and the peripheries – is fully made a pedestrian corridor, a number of tartanillas will be adorned to ferry tourists. With that, the horse-drawn tartanilla – or kalesa or parada – will have a more visible place in any celebration of Cebu’s heritage.