Tag Archives: unisan

To España (via Philippine National Railroad!)

In Alabang, PNR staffers told passengers that they could only accommodate those who bought tickets from an earlier time. The rest would have to wait  for two hours for the next ride. Yes, not efficient but if you don’t have any options you’d be happy to wait. Well,  air conditioned Metropolis Alabang is nearby so those passengers can go inside and idle their time away.

No not madre españa but that frequently flooded area named after the Iberian motherland.

The journey felt like an attraction ride. It ran steady at 20 kilometers per hour as it wildly swayed from side to side. Not to disparage efforts our government is taking to modernize our train network but like its current speed—it’s too slow.

To this my mother said, “mas mabuti na yan kaysa wala”.

But let me point out that even in its current condition PNR benefits many of our countrymen. The trip from Alabang to España was under an hour. That’s faster than taking any other public transportation today.

During the ride, I stroke up a conversation with a farmer from Tanauan. An OFW from Saudi who decided to come home to farm. He was headed to Pasay to buy pesticides. He dreams that our trains would one day connect his beloved Tanauan, hometown of the hero Mabini, to Manila.

“Pare, maybe not in our lifetime, but who knows?” I told him.

I went to a public elementary school in Makati where many of my classmates lived “home along da riles”. Our school was near the Buendia Station. Our teachers would pause from teaching as trains blasts their thunderous horns.

We played in and around the railroad. I noticed how scant and unkempt my friends houses were. They were illegal settlers along the railroad. Their shanties stood in stilts with the canal below serving as sewage. But what made an impression on me was how happy they were even living in that condition.

Rail work begun in 1887 under British direction. The asset was transferred completely to the Philippine government during the American administration. Since then it went through its phases of development.

Our PNR stations these days are devoid of the former elegance and grace it once had. We never had grand and wide stations like those in old Europe but they were lovely. They look pretty and there are a few of them left, like Paco and San Fernando (Pam.), though slowly crumbling to their deaths, scattered along our old riles.

Our trains had its good days. The line north referred to “Sugar road” while the south transports “Sugar, forest products and petroleum.”

History teachers tells us of Rizal’s letter praising the women of Malolos. Well, he visited the town via our railroad. He then proceeded to see friends as far as San Fernando. This was a century ago. The crumbling stations along the north has been waiting for the trains return.

When? that depends on how determined our government wants to put us right back on track (there’s the pun).

Recent developments under Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” vision looks promising. It comes as one of the bigger items in the infrastructure build up. The railway sector get a big pie with 1 trillion pesos (this budget includes the MRT).

The north would be extended all the way to Malolos (from Tutuban). Then another 55 kilometer railway reaching Clark in Pampanga. So you can alight from Clark airport and go straight to Manila.

To the South, from Tutuban the railway would run once more and reach Los Banos. I’ve been dreaming of riding an overnighter train to Bicol since I was a little boy. I wonder when would I finally get to ride one—I’m almost 40 now!

While I was on vacation a few years ago when visited Quezon province I saw the old railroad cut through an intensely green rice paddy (if memory serves me right I was in Unisan). Imagine if you were on a comfortable train ride going down south and you wake up seeing something like that?

Aside from moving goods and people, there’s tourism money for the PNR and towns it serves. A reliable and working train network is good for local economies too. One of my favorite travel show is “Japan Hour,” it is basically people riding trains to visit towns in the province.

The plan to establish a train running near the Laguna De Ba’y was drawn during the American occupation. Another plan that would have benefited us if it were carried out (much like the Burnham plan for Manila) to its conclusion. Due to massive population growth in recent years all you see today are houses.

Experts say that trains would contribute in dispersing the population out of Manila. It improves local economies. People would build their homes outside Manila if there’s an efficient public transport. This is something we haven’t realized yet because we have a failed rail system.

How we ended up with a mismanaged railway system? We all know the answer to that. The same answer why we ended up with poor infrastructure all over our islands.

I now live here in Singapore where the slightest delays in train arrivals makes the evening news—and theirs I feel is one of the best in Asia. They demand the highest standards from the people that runs their train system. I imagine having the same trains going in and out of our cities, taking us to our provinces, north and south, to see relatives and spend fiesta holidays.

Sana lang we get to see it in our lifetime. Sana.


Uni Sancti: Unisan Visit

Ricefields and coastal scenes of Unisan

The thing that I remember most about my visit to Unisan, Quezon early this year was seeing how the old town is beginning to look increasingly deprived and lost. I should be writing something nice (the hospitality that Familia Evora-Alas extended has been nothing but a pleasure) for the town still have that old Filipino spirit, the one that you normally see in provincial towns. But its sad state just won’t make me do it.

It’s not new that most of the ancestral houses these days of old Filipino families are gone. We have been very good at tearing them down, anyway. Some still lie in rubbles which are really painful to see for someone like me. The first bahay na bató (Antillean house) in Unisan, the Maxino house (said to be haunted because the family members of the original owner were massacred in the 19th century), was salvaged by the God-sent group of Architect Jerry Acúzar in Bataán. The house was praised for being one of the most elegant casas in the country. Although the house rests outside its home province now, at least it still exists somewhere which is better because not all Antillean houses are as lucky.

There really is nothing new in seeing the old removed as this has been a common experience for me. What bothers me more these days is that, all too often, neglect is becoming an increasing problem in the Filipino society. Our attitude towards these heritage structures mirrors that. In Quezon, there is illegal logging but you don’t hear people crying about getting rid of it. For some reason, all of these are accepted occurrences. Life goes on as usual.

A friend of ours, San Pedro, La Laguna Mayor Calixto Catáquiz, whose great grandfather was once the town chief of Unisan, frequently visits the said town and stays with the Alas clan. Speaking of politicians, the town’s congressman, who made a name for himself after proudly announcing to the world that it was he who paid for Arroyo’s multimillion dinner in New York sometime last year, built a castle-like mansion that sits next to some of the most poorest people in that town. These seashore villagers defecate and clean themselves in the surf where their small fishing bancas are docked close to what appears to be the solon’s yacht. There can be no higher contrast in Filipino social order –the filthy rich living side by side with the poorest of the poor — you’ll see this here in Unisan. And yet, just a couple of days ago, the owner admitted hosting a sumptuous million peso meal to politician friends.

But this is our society today: we complain about our past, how the colonialists corrupted it. But as days and years roll by, we only manage to sink deeper and deeper — and that hated past seems to get brighter and brighter. Our society undeniably is more corrupt than ever. But we don’t seem to mind this as we carry on putting old time crooked politicians from old elitist clans in the helm again and again. I’m quite certain that a few years from now, after electing these crooks, we will still be demanding change. But once we have achieved it (or get fooled into believing that we have finally achieved it), we’ll slide back not to where we once were but in a much worst position. Well, it is fun, isn’t it?

The Alas' coastal rest house.

As Pepe and I were taking pictures of what remains of vintage Unisan, we got apprehended by the provincial police and were detained for about two hours. No violence was committed against us by the police who were just paranoid about the recent communist incursion. They have a reason to be anxious because the communists have just raided a neighboring barrio, murdering some of their colleagues. My friend, sporting his peculiar rocker-slash-pro-wrestling style, probably did appear to be an insurgent to them. I was waiting for the good-cop, bad-cop thing, for them to bring the whoop ass to him but it never did happen. They were surprisingly polite. My friend’s family is well-known in Unisan; the current mayor was actually an uncle of his. Perhaps that was a good deterrent for police cruelty but Pepe have had bad history with the local police. The police station, if I’m not mistaken, was a dispensary during the American years. Unfortunately, the police barred me from taking pictures of it. It had rooms that appeared to have served as bed quarters. I wanted to reach the old bridge, visible near the Alas residence, that was said to be destroyed during the Japanese Occupation, but we ran out of time because of what happened.

One house here was said to have been fitted with materials that came all the way from Europe. Now, you start to wonder how rich Unisan was and how its residents lived. And the case is the same with most towns all over the country during the Spanish era: affluent and sophisticated families were products of what were then prosperous provincial societies. They once dominated everything there is about the community. These families, whose ancestors will be immortalized by the lapidas you now see inside old yglesias, are testaments of what Filipino life was once like. It is sad that we often hear people talk down on how this period in Philippine history is nothing more but Spanish history in the Philippines…

Unisan's church marker near the peeing area of the sports complex

Another interesting edifice in town was the church that looks more like a contemporary chapel in a new housing development. Aside from the stone marker, placed near an obnoxious corner, reminding people of its founding, it has no trace of history and tradition. The church, a Franciscan mission, was completely renovated losing its historic charm that makes our churches unique. We went up to the campanaria and saw a magnificent vista of the coastal town.

After going around town taking photos of its ancestral houses, we later decided to visit one of Unisan’s caves called Bonifacio Cave. It is located about two to three kilometers from the town proper. We were waiting for one of Pepe’s cousins to take us there. We decided to buy some refreshments when we spoke to the old tindero who knew Pepe’s grandfather. He later offered his tricycle to bring us to the Bonifacio cave when my friend’s cousin failed to arrive on the designated time. It is true what they say about our old barrios: everyone knows everybody. Unisan was once a tightly knit society, I was told, and I believe to a certain extent it still is (just like in other provincial towns in the Philippines).

We never really went deep inside the cave as we were ill-equipped to do so. We’re not really spelunkers, but the experience was fun. Sadly, there were some signs of vandalism and garbage. If only the local government could conserve this precious cave, it will definitely be an exciting attraction for Unisan’s tourists. I’m not sure if the local government is interested in tourism. Never really felt they were. But it is never too late to start. Those picturesque stone houses, the warmth of the people, cultural heritage, and the natural attractions –- these are all ingredients of a Filipino tourist spot. But it takes vision and constructive creativity to achieve that, something that is lacking these days among our leaders.

Unisan, its history and natural beauty, made the trip worth it (I think 5 hours) — even if many of the things I saw did not appeal to me much, the dirty seashore, poverty and sorry state of some of the old houses, I have to admit that I felt relaxed and inspired by Unisan’s bucolic and serene life.

more photos of this trip here

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