History of land transport in the Philippines (2/4)

By PIO VERZOLA JR.
www.nordis.net


SECOND OF A FOUR PART SERIES

Click here for first part

3. Railways in the last decade of Spanish rule

The bigger and more dramatic push was in building railways. In 1875, the Spanish government authorized a Manila committee to propose railways projects. Three lines were suggested, totaling 1,730 km of track: the Manila-Dagupan line (which was to be extended later to Laoag); the Manila-Bicol line, which would reach Albay; and the Manila-Batangas route that would reach Taal town.

In 1878, a Manila public works official proposed a streetcar system (tranvia) with five lines, with Plaza San Gabriel in Binondo as main hub. The lines were to run to Intramuros via what is now Jones Bridge; to Malate church; to Malacanang; to Sampaloc; and to Tondo. The system was built by a Spanish firm (La Compania de Tranvias de Filipinas) from 1885 to 1889. The Malacanang line was later dropped in favor of the Malabon line, which started operating in 1888 to serve Malabon’s cigar-making factories, milkfish ponds, and a British-owned sugar mill. The Malabon line ran on four German-made steam locomotives with eight coaches (nine passengers each), while the other four lines were horse-drawn omnibuses for 12 seated and 8 standing passengers. The system became very popular with commuters.

Note: There is some documentation that when the Katipunan issued a call for general mobilization and assembly in the Caloocan area right after its discovery in August 1896, a number of its Manila forces (possibly including the Bonifacio brothers and other top leaders) rode on the tranvia, got off at Caloocan, and cautiously proceeded on foot towards Balintawak for the general assembly prior to the Cry of Pugadlawin.

The single largest infrastructure project during the Spanish period was the Manila-Dagupan railroad (built from 1887 to 1892), with a short spur line from Tutuban to the Binondo quay of the Manila port. It was an early PPP model: the Manila government shouldered all the risks and awarded the BOT rights to British-owned Manila Railway Company. Dagupan was probably chosen as the northern terminal of the railway because it was the single most important shipping point through which rice and other farm products from Pangasinan and northern Tarlac were gathered and shipped to Manila. Prior to the railway era, the Manila-Dagupan line referred to steamers regularly plying that marine route.

Note: The two other planned lines, to Bicol and Batangas, were shelved due to financial problems and the outbreak of the Philippine revolution. It would take the US colonial regime to continue where the Spanish regime left off.

While the steam engine started to make itself felt in long-haul land transport, traditional horse, mule and carabao power continued to predominate the field. There were more horse carriages in Manila than in any other Asian city (which relied more on human-drawn rickshaws). In the 1880s, there were more than 1,000 horse-drawn calesas and nearly as many carromatas and carabao carts in Manila alone.

Meanwhile, within and between the towns not directly served by watercraft and the railway, the masses continued to rely on ages-old foot-based and horse-based modes of transport along Spanish camino reals connecting major towns, and through each major town’s street system. Spanish trails were also built across mountains to connect military garrisons especially in unpacified regions. Otherwise, people especially in the vast rural areas walked, carried bamboo poles on which hung heavier cargo (or hammocks for people who couldn’t walk), or rode on horseback, alongside pack mules and carabao-pulled sleds and carts.

4. The US colonial period

The US colonial period saw, in its early stages (1899-1920s), the further nationwide expansion of the railway and shipping system, and then towards its later stages (1930s-1946), the gradual decline of the railways. Major Visayan islands also had localized railways in late-Spanish and American periods, although mainly to transport plantation crops for export. The indigenous or Spanish-period ship- and boat-building industries also suffered a decline, as the US colonial regime preferred the use of big foreign-made ships. These two big trends were closely related to a third: the tremendous expansion of the road system and US-manufactured motor vehicles.

These three major developments and other changes in the transport system were part of the US economic policy of expanding and enhancing the colonial pattern of trade initially established in the last 50 years of Spanish rule (export crops, imported finished goods), and converting its local feudal base into a semi-feudal one. Colonially encouraged industries (light industries and related commercial activities) flourished in and around Manila and a few other port towns, in addition to mining and logging in outlying provinces. These further impelled the expansion of the transport system.

The growth of US military bases and Filipino bureaucracy also played a big part. We are reminded that throughout the US colonial period, including the Commonwealth period, the US regime built and maintained an immense bulk of military and civil infrastructure in all major islands, or improved on existing Spanish-era towns and forts. These included big US Army forts and camps such as Fort McKinley (now Fort Bonifacio), Fort Stotsenberg (later Clark Air Force Base), the whole of Baguio City as the colonial regime’s summer capital, US naval bases in Subic and Sangley Point, and later airfields for the budding US Army Air Force. These in turn greatly reshaped the geographic distribution of population and socioeconomic activity. Mindanao, the Cordillera and other hinterlands were opened up as the final frontiers.

By the start of the American colonial period in 1898, features of urbanization had begun to overflow from the city of Manila to the surrounding towns, which were soon covered by the new Rizal province (thus the convenient and long-accepted term “Manila-Rizal”). Manila’s dominant role attracted migration from the provinces, which had started even during the Spanish period, and encouraged the gradual urbanization of adjacent towns which had started in the 1930s. The population of areas that now comprise metropolitan Manila increased rapidly from less than 75,000 at the start of the 20th century to approximately 900,000 by late 1941. Urban growth also accelerated in smaller cities such as Baguio, Angeles, Cebu, Iloilo, and Davao.

In Manila, the Manila Electric Railroad and Light Company (Meralco) took over the tranvia system, with 12 electric tram lines operating by 1905. A reconstruction program from 1920 to 1924 upgraded the system to 170 cars servicing many parts of Manila and its outskirts, proving to be an efficient mass transport for a population of 220,000. It was supplemented by ubiquitous horse-drawn carriages (calesas, carretelas and carromatas), river and estuary boats, and an increasing number of private cars. Almost 9,000 horses were listed in the 1903 Manila census; this expanded to 25,000 shortly before World War II.#

Author’s note: These are Sections 1-7 of “History of Philippine land transport”, which in turn is Part II of a draft framework paper on Philippine mass transport that I’ve been writing with the help of representatives of KMU, PISTON and a few others.

We saw the value of tracing the roots of our current-day transport problems through the broader socio-historical context, in order to better appreciate the challenge of seeking long-term solutions. Historical accounts are also inherently fascinating, like unearthing one’s ancestral lineage. 

As specialized histories typically require specialized research, this historical backgrounder will obviously stand as a work in progress. It is not comprehensive, but rather imparts focus on land transport trends related to urbanization. What was supposed to be Section 8, on the last 30 years (1986-present), will be included in Part III which will dwell with the current-day land transport conditions and problems.

Author’s note: These are Sections 1-7 of “History of Philippine land transport”, which in turn is Part II of a draft framework paper on Philippine mass transport that I’ve been writing with the help of representatives of KMU, PISTON and a few others.

We saw the value of tracing the roots of our current-day transport problems through the broader socio-historical context, in order to better appreciate the challenge of seeking long-term solutions. Historical accounts are also inherently fascinating, like unearthing one’s ancestral lineage.

As specialized histories typically require specialized research, this historical backgrounder will obviously stand as a work in progress. It is not comprehensive, but rather imparts focus on land transport trends related to urbanization. What was supposed to be Section 8, on the last 30 years (1986-present), will be included in Part III which will dwell with the current-day land transport conditions and problems. # nordis.net

Continued next week

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