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What happened to the Philippine Railway Co?

By: Jobers R. Bersales June 19,2014 - 08:39 AM

Last week, I traced the history of the railway in Cebu. Today let me expound on its untimely demise.

After sustaining damage to its central depot during the liberation bombings of late 1944 and early 1945, the Philippine Railway Company in Cebu was sold by auction, most of its rails brought by sugar milling companies in Negros and Iloilo during the 1950s.

The University of San Carlos (USC) under the German rector Harold Rigney tried to bid for the central train station and depot in 1959 to 1960, which stretched from where the Development Bank of the Philippines is right now straight to the Cebu City Medical Center and the Cebu Fire Station.

Misereor, the German Catholic mission foundation had given USC some funds for this purpose and what better thing to do than to buy the property which was just across where Land Bank of the Philippines is housed now, where the USC Girls High School was housed.

Unfortunately for USC, one city councilor, whom I shall not name here, blocked the sale and Mayor Carlos Cuizon had to apologize to Fr. Rigney because the negotiations had been going on without a hitch until it reached the City Council. This explains why the USC South Campus now is way down in the area called Private (the road there used to be privately owned).

To those who do know it yet, the Rehabilitation Finance Corp. which was established by the government to accept US and Japanese war reparations to pay for the war damage wrought on buildings and houses, eventually became the DBP and where else would DBP want to build its Cebu headquarters than the prime lot where the old central station used to be?

All the rails of the trains were sold off eventually. Some of those had earlier been used to strengthen anti-tank barriers to block the Japanese approach either in Talisay or in Toledo along the Manipis Road. The ones in Toledo have survived and are found in barangay Carmen amid rice fields and at the entrance to Manipis in Lutopan. Those in Tabunok are nowhere to be found, a victim of road widening, perhaps.

The rails were simply abandoned by the Japanese Imperial Army after two or three daring guerrilla raids in Naga and I think in Compostela which destroyed some trains and killed a number of Japanese soldiers in 1943. When the Americans came, the railroads had been overgrown with tall grasses, train bridges all blown up by guerrillas and USAFFE forces early in the war.

In the United States, something else happened that caused a scandal there and in the Philippines. The PRC owners based in New York floated bonds in the millions of dollars around 1931 ostensibly to finance the expansion of the rail. But these bonds were not legally allowed and had no value to them. The masterminds were eventually arrested and the government took over the PRC until war broke out.

Even before the Japanese landing in Toledo on April 10, 1942, the PRC was in the red already, not for lack of passengers and cargo. It was being harassed by bus companies, the most famous being the pre-war American-owned Cebu Autobus, which plied the national highway just beside the rails but charged half or even one-fourth the price of a train ticket. PRC filed cases against this and other bus operators who sold tickets with discounts to passengers.

What happened to the train stations? In my now-defunct “Kabilin” television show (still accessible on YouTube, by the way), you will find some of the extant train stations in Cebu. There is one in Simala, Sibonga town inside the elementary school, well-preserved and adaptively reused as a library. There is one languishing now amid the road widening and beneath one of those beautiful acacia trees in Perrelos, Carcar City. There is another one now incorporated into a private hospital in Sibonga town and the last train station in Argao town is now part of the fire station there.
In the final analysis, the PRC could actually have saved the railway if only it had the people with vision and political will. After the war, two political families were jockeying for national and local positions in Philippine politics.

These two, whose scions are still here, also owned ships and bus companies and even newspapers. Buses were an important vehicle during elections. You can waylay the voters of your opposition or you can ferry your voters to wherever you want them to vote. Having a train run by government was anathema to the kind of politics of that nasty period in our history. It was thus due to such political pressures that the trains had to be sold.

And so today we have nothing but memory in the name of a sitio or place that has stuck all over from Argao to Danao. If you happen to live in a sitio called “estasyon” or “estasyonan”, chances are the PRC trains once stopped there to load and unload passengers.

Cebu is probably the only place in the whole world that never rehabilitated its train system after the war. Even Warsaw, totally devastated and leveled during World War II, rebuilt their trains and rails. No wonder Warsaw has no burgeoning day population and horrendous traffic jams.

I agree with Mayor Michael Rama and Rep. Gerald Anthony Gullas Jr. It is time to bring back those trains before we end up like Manila with too little, too late.

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