Safe and Sound: Voices of Promises, Hopes, and Fear amidst the PNR Reopening

by Janelle T. Macandog and Redjie Myr Florendo

ON THE RAILS. The passenger train of the Philippine National Railway arrives at seven in the morning at the College Station in Barangay Mayondon, Los Banos, Laguna. Photo by Redjie Myr Florendo.

A typical day along the railway traversing Barangays Mayondon and Batong Malake of Los Baños, Laguna would show children balancing themselves on the tracks — one foot after the other, women traipsing the rough tracks while carefully carrying their bags of groceries, students on their way to school, residents off to work, and many frequently crossing the tracks to buy goods on the nearest sari-sari store.

Life is busy until a distant horn is heard. In split seconds, the railway is cleared with people staying as far away as possible from the tracks. For some minutes, only the railcar’s ramble can be felt.

LIFEWAYS BESIDE RAILWAYS. Most houses are just a few meters away from the railway itself, escalating the danger that residents of Barangays Mayondon and Batong Malake face. According to MUDHO Head Karen Coronado, the local officials conducted safety-clearing operations in the community and oriented the residents on the safe distance from the railway that they should observe when a train approaches. Photo by Redjie Myr Florendo.

This has been the life of Nanay Vangie in her 52 years of residing beside the railways. This was her birthplace and has become the residence, too, of her children and eventually her grandchildren. According to her, people have become used to this kind of living. Now that the Philippine National Railway (PNR) has reopened. However, they cannot help but worry about the kids roaming and playing around the area.

PLAY SAFE. Since the Philippine National Railway reopened and the train trips resumed, the elderly in the community have been keeping their kids under close watch. Nanay Vangie narrates that they ensure that the children are inside their homes right when the signal of a train approaching is heard. Photo by Redjie Myr Florendo.

As a grandmother who wants nothing more than the safety of her four grandchildren living with her at Barangay Mayondon, she can only hope for a change in their situation as soon as possible.

“Puro naririnig pero wala namang kasiguraduhan,” Nanay Vangie said referring to the plans of government authorities on their relocation. “Napapansin namin kada mag-eeleksyon ang presidente. Pero sabi nila, mas lamang puro sabi-sabi, sure na daw ‘yun. Baka daw sa 2025, sabi nila,” she added.

(There have always been rumors about our relocation, especially every election period. But people say that this time, it’s sure already. They say it might happen in 2025.)

Karen Coronado, head of the Municipal Urban Development and Housing Office (MUDHO) in Los Baños, meanwhile, responded to this concern as she explained that lack of budget has derailed the fulfillment of the PNR reopening in Los Baños alongside the relocation of residents a couple of times.  

“Kahit po may programa ang gobyerno natin, hindi naman po gano’n kadali kung wala naman pong budget. Hindi naman natin sila pwedeng paalisin doon basta-basta nang wala tayong paglulugaran sa kanila. So ang naging problema lang noon, naging paulit-ulit lang, e budget talaga.” 

(It is not easy to implement the programs of the government if there is no budget. The problem has always been about the budget. We cannot just tell them to leave their place without having a relocation site.)

“Pero sa ngayon, talagang binibigyang-pansin nila. Kasi kailangan na nilang ipatupad ‘yung proyekto [dahil] kailangan din naman ng bansa natin ng maayos na transportasyon,” Coronado said.

(But this time, the project is being prioritized since the country needs efficient transportation.)

Highway versus railway

In light of the current transportation woes of the country, the reopening of the PNR was warmly welcomed by many.  Laguna and Quezon’s commuters do not waste the chance to experience what it feels like to ride a train. After all, it is undeniable that there are significant advantages to the railway ride experience over the highway’s.

Lloyd Anthony Buenaobra, one of the train station security personnel at the College Train Station in Los Baños, thinks that this reopening made it possible for commuters to have a convenient commuting experience. 

“Iyong PNR kasi dire-diretso ang byahe. At saka ang maganda pa roon, unang-una, tipid tayo sa pamasahe. Iyong pangalawa naman, maganda ‘yung ating transportasyon. Kumbaga dire-diretso, hindi tayo magka-cutting trip,” Buenaobra said.

(What’s good about riding the train, first, is that it is economical. Second, the transportation is efficient, we do not need to cut trips.)

Buenaobra compared this to what he experienced in other public transportation in the Philippines. He mentioned the struggles he encounters, especially heavy traffic when riding jeepneys and buses which sometimes results in delays in his commitments. 

Coronado also mentioned that the reopening of PNR has a significant impact on the economy since it allows for faster transportation of goods, especially perishable ones. 

But every stick has two ends, indeed, the same way as there are two voices that need to be heard beyond the clickety-clack and horn of the train. Coronado’s assurance is that the local government has been listening to both sides and they have been working to be on track with their plans for the residents.

On track

According to Coronado, by the first half of 2024, the relocation site is already expected to have been identified. Houses should have also been constructed, meaning all is set for the residents’ relocation. 

Coronado also ensured that the residents would be assisted throughout the relocation process and that their basic necessities including water, electricity, and livelihood opportunities would be taken care of. 

“May tinatawag pong community associations [ang gobyerno]. Maraming ahensya po ang magbibigay sa kanila ng mga livelihood trainings, mga pangkabuhayan nila na gagamitin nila para sa pang-araw-araw nila. So hindi naman po sila pababayaan. May mga government agencies na bababa sa kanila, tutulungan sila,” Coronado said.

(There are community associations as well as government agencies that will visit them and provide livelihood training, which they can use for their everyday lives. They will not be abandoned. There will be government agencies that will help them.)

A LIFE TO LEAVE. Amidst their looming relocation, the residents worry if they will have the same livelihood opportunity that they have now once they are resettled into the place that the government prepared for them. Photos by Redjie Myr Florendo.

These honking plans and promises for the resettlement of the residents are music to the residents’ ears. But with all the constant reassurances on the residents’ resettlement, Nanay Vangie only hopes for one thing.

HIGH HOPES. Nanay Vangie shares that she is not against the relocation program of the government as this will ensure the safety of the residents now that PNR trains have resumed their operations. Nevertheless, she emphasizes that she looks forward to being resettled in a place where their needs can be better facilitated and services are easily accessible. Photo by Redjie Myr Florendo.

“Walang magagawa [sa pagpapalipat], hindi naman amin ito eh. Ang aming [hiling] na lang, maging maganda ang aming titirhan, ‘yung lugar namin. ‘Yung malapit sa lahat – sa school, sa palengke, sa ospital. Sana. Hindi naman kami pwedeng mamili [ng lokasyon] di ba? Sana mapaganda ang aming pupuntahan,” Nanay Vangie said.

(We cannot do anything about the relocation since this place isn’t ours to begin with. The only thing we want is for us to be resettled in a better location. We hope that schools, markets, and hospitals are easily accessible there. We cannot choose, right? So we hope we will be in a good place.)

As the passenger trains rumble their way through the tracks, so do the residents’ hum of hope for a life better than the one they have had for as long as they can remember, the one which they are now about to leave.

The residents voicing out their fears comes with the hope that the officials will heed their calls. It remains to be seen, however, whether or not they can deliver their promise: a safe and sound community that the residents are entitled to have.