30,000 families to be relocated in Bicol train rehab

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It’s like Rip Van Winkle coming out from sleep. At last, the plan to repair the Philippine National Railways (PNR) from Laguna to Legazpi City is alive again. For the project to push, it will require the relocation of 30,000 families settled on the 15-meter clearance of the train’s path.

The government plan is definite good news to Bicol, but it’s mind-bending why only now will repairs be undertaken. The train plying the southern end of Luzon is different from how it looked decades ago as it meandered in the craggy mountainsides of Quezon Province to the foot of Mount Isarog in Camarines Sur and Mayon in Albay. Huge numbers of people have already crowded the tracks, the 483-kilometer stretch from Manila.

Vital to travel in the Bicol region and the rest of the country, the PNR had been largely neglected. It practically operated in meager maintenance budget even if plans to extend the line, about 135 kilometers from Legazpi to Sorsogon had been on the works.

Wooden planks and metal supports on the transportation line were continual victims of thieves who used them as firewood or sell them as scraps. For many years, almost nobody took action for their upkeep, to the disappointment of Bicolanos. The yearly torrential rains caused infrastructure damage. The government did little to prevent people from building houses along the railway tracks.

This early the concern for the legal rights of the squatters has been raised. Human rights groups are pushing for standard eviction amenities. The enormity of the problem causes some interested investors to back out of the project.

“Jun de la Torre, Community Organization of the Philippines (COPE) assistant regional coordinator said they have strengthened their social preparation efforts in favor of the railway settlers by collaborating with 10-federation strong Bicol Urban Poor Coordinating Council (BUPCC) headed by Lorna Chavez to ensure that the rights of these affected settlers would not be derailed when the PNR rehabilitation project starts in the near future.” Bicol Mail, (12/12/08, Neola, J)

The project is rocked with questionable political deals. P17 billion has been allotted to remove the illegal dwellers on the dangerous tracks. It constitutes a third of the total budget of P52.19—the cost of the much delayed project which was earlier scheduled in 2005 to 2011.

It is uncertain when the money will come or if it is adequate. With the postponements that go with government projects, at this time, the railway rehabilitation remains a dream for Bicolanos. (Photo Credits: Orangedroplet; Alcogoodwin; Alcogoodwin; orangedroplet)=0=

RELATED BLOG: “Life on the railway tracks & the fate of Isadora Duncan” Posted on Friday September 12th, 2008

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