History of land transport in the Philippines (3/4)



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5. The early post-war period (1946-1965)

The early post-World War II or pre-Marcos period (1946-1965) saw basically the continuation and intensification of the semi-feudal socioeconomic system in the whole country, under the neocolonial setup and the acceleration of “growth trends” (actually the seeds of crises) that emerged before the war. In this section, we focus more specifically on the impacts of urbanization as seen in Metro Manila, and the impacts of the nationwide expansion of roads and motor vehicles.

Urbanization in the Philippines is broadly reflected by the increase in towns and cities with 100,000 residents or more—from nine in 1900, to 21 by 1970. More clearly, this is seen in the big jump of residential populations in the chartered cities, from 3.9 million (14% of total population) in 1960, to 7.4 million (20% of total) in 1970. Take note that this urbanization did not reflect real industrialization, but the growth of non-industrial activities (mostly services) outside of agriculture and served the semi-feudal economy and semi-colonial system.

World War II destroyed much of Manila and displaced many urban communities. The postwar reconstruction period was generally unplanned and chaotic despite government planning efforts. In-migration from other provinces accelerated the growth of Manila, newly created Quezon City, and the towns of surrounding Rizal province (with its two cities Pasay and Caloocan and fast growing Makati), such that by the 1960s, planners had started viewing the bigger territory as “Greater Manila area” comprising 4 cities and 17 municipalities.

The war also destroyed a lot of infrastructure, including bridges, railroads and Manila’s tranvia (electric tram) system, not to mention killing off the huge prewar horse population. Japanese war reparations poured in, supposedly to help rehabilitate infrastructure, but much of it was pocketed by corrupt bureaucrats and public-works contractors. While PNR operations struggled to survive, the tranvia system was finally abandoned. These created huge deficits in urban and inter-provincial transport, which were soon filled up by jeepneys (from reconditioned military surplus motor vehicles) and buses (initially made from converted military trucks).

Nevertheless, road-building dramatically expanded together with increases in motor vehicles. Bus transport (PUB) companies began to dominate provincial routes, competing with PNR in Luzon. The rise to dominance of the urban jeepney (at first small AC or auto-calesa, later bigger-capacity PUJs) and its gradual expansion to nearby provinces also date from this period. Private car ownership also expanded, but the price of imported (mostly US-made) cars limited ownership only to the wealthy and upper-middle classes and government and private offices.

The history of the local automotive industry deserves its own research and separate paper, especially those jeepney assemblers (e.g. Sarao, Francisco Motors and others) that struggled to survive on a thriving local market until they were eroded by US and other foreign firms. While the import-substitution local strategy of the 1950s clearly encouraged the patchwork development of certain manufacturing processes that helped nudge local jeepney assembly forward, this proved short-lived and should provide valuable lessons for future attempts to kickstart local automotive manufacturing.

Another significant development during this period was the rapid depletion of forest resources and shrinkage of frontier lands. The remaining frontier areas in Northern Luzon, Mindanao and Palawan-Mindoro were gradually filled up with new towns, which were eventually interconnected through new roads (many of them old logging roads) and smaller ports and wharves. Marcos would later take advantage of this by launching an ambitious infrastructure program, in which he and his cronies would benefit.#

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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