Today's Punto
Today's Punto
Train to Clark
By Bong Lacson

Jun 27, 2017

“THIS BIG project, it used to be just all talk. But under the Duterte administration we will make it a reality. For the first time, a rail project will connect Manila to Central Luzon and it will be completed under the Duterte administration.”

No, Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade, this is not the first time that a rail project will connect Manila to Central Luzon. As late as 1975, trains of the Philippine National Railways served the Manila-Central Luzon line and extended up to San Fernando, La Union far north.

Our Tatalonian Toughie – the moniker we inflicted Tugade with as Clark Development Corp. top honcho, as much for his roots as his demeanor – was correct though that pre-Duterte, the northern express was “just all talk.”

Shortly after President Ramos declared Clark as the country’s premier international gateway in 1994, reports of exploration talks with some Spanish compañía de los ferrocarriles over a Clark-Manila railway ensued. Yes, all talk it turned out to be.

Indeed, the Clark-Manila railway had become a matter of course in just about every plan – always grandiosely mastered, ever failing to take off – for the Freeport.

It was in the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo though that the talks were concretized in the North Rail Project.

From the original concept of a commuter service and airport express link to Clark, the North Rail sought to revive the old PNR line with a conventional commuter train system. Project implementation started with the gargantuan work of clearing the old line of the informal settlers that occupied its whole length, at the equally gargantuan social engineering cost of their resettlement in clusters of housing developments generically named NorthVilles 1, 2, 3, ad nauseam.

The massive pillars for the railway had reached up to Malolos City when the BS Aquino administration took over from the disgraced GMA. They have remained there since.

The North Rail Project deemed unworthy of, aye, an anochrinism to, the BS’ Daang Matuwid, enmeshed – allegedly – as it was in corruption – what with its funding of $400 million loaned from the China Import-Export Bank, and incompetence – on the part of both local implementors and the mandated Chinese contractor Sinomach, formerly China National Machinery and Equipment Corp., with little, if any, experience – allegedly – in railway construction.

This is neither apología for GMA nor acquiescence to the purported corruption: Unarguably, the North Rail Project stoppage is the greatest disservice of the BS presidency to the people of Central Luzon – Aquino’s own people – as well as those of the North. Think of the travel convenience we should all now be enjoying had it been allowed to proceed to completion to its target date of 2015. Corruption be damned!

Where the BS epically failed, the Davao Mayor now stands to gloriously succeed.

This Monday past, the P255-billion Manila- Clark Railway went into first gear with the marking of the first five of its stations – Marilao and Meycauayan in Bulacan; Valenzuela, Caloocan, and Tutuban in Metro Manila. The other stations are Solis, Bocaue, Balagtas, Guiguinto, Malolos City, Calumpit, Apalit, the City of San Fernando, Angeles City, Clark Freeport, Clark International Airport and New Clark City.

Funded by official development assistance (ODA) from Japan, construction works are set to begin in the fourth quarter of this year, and, at the promised 24/7 pace, project completion is expected in 2021.

Yes, well within the term of President Duterte as Tugade said.

Notwithstanding Tugade’s penchant to bite off more than he can chew – Didn’t he say government won’t spend a single cent for the unified MRT-LRT terminal that now stands to drain the public coffers of billions? Didn’t he brag of solving the MRT mess, the LTO inertia, even the EDSA traffc conundrum within the same time span his beloved classmate Duterte vowed to end the drug problem that is all of three to six months? And while at this, what about his cable car installation along EDSA for traffic decongestion, ha ha? – still, I cannot help but invest some faith in his word.

For too long, we have held on to this vision of tracks to Clark – and beyond, to the great North. Anything or anyone that promises the tiniest spark to the realization of that vision we readily take to our hearts.

So, we believe, keeping our fingers crossed for a miracle this time coming out of the mirage.

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