An idea whose time has come
JAYWALKER - Art Borjal () - June 3, 2002 - 12:00am
Dr. David Murphy noted Ernesto Aboitiz’s list of specific points of progress in the Philippines in the last seven years is just the sort of good news that people need to be reminded of. His general comments about the power of a positive attitude are equally as valuable. We are also aware of long-term changes, like being able to feed ten people at a nice restaurant for twenty pesos fifty years ago. We tend to forget that most people then didn’t earn twenty pesos in a week.
* * *
The article started me thinking about what should happen next to continue and expedite the progress. The same idea keeps coming up: the Philippines needs a national railroad system analogous to the interstate highway system in the U.S. I know that this is not a new idea. But I think that now is the time to implement it.
* * *
Why railroads instead of highways? To take the negative first, highways are expensive to build and maintain and they are energy-inefficient to use. Even with the extensive interstate highway system in the US, railroads are still cheaper for hauling freight. How much more so is this true in the Philippines? Highways are dangerous. The mixing of huge trucks and small cars on the same highways is inherently dangerous, and especially so under the conditions which prevail in the Philippines. Railroads are cheaper to build, less expensive to maintain, they are a faster and more efficient means of long distance travel and shipping and they are safer. The population density and the rugged terrain of the Philippines make a railroad an ideal mode of transportation of people and goods.
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With the imminent development of modern port facilities and considering the island geography of the Philippines, the development of a true national railway system is even more practical. Goods from central Mindanao or Nueva Ecija, for example, can be loaded into semi trailers (the cargo compartment of the eighteen-wheel tractor-trailers) which are loaded directly onto flat-bed rail cars and hauled to port where the whole trailer is loaded onto a ship to the destination.
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There, the trailers are hooked to tractors for local delivery or loaded directly onto rail cars and transported. The process is efficient, cost-effective and quick. Produce is cheaper and fresher, manufactured goods cheaper and more competitive, both domestically and on the international market.
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I anticipate an immediate objection that such a system will reduce the number of handlers needed at the ports. This is not only true but is one of the main objectives of the system. But consider the benefits. First, because the productivity of the remaining workers will be greatly enhanced they can be paid a better salary. Second, the economic benefits will create new and better jobs for the other workers. Training programs may be appropriate to help them make the transition.
* * *
Dr. Murphy stressed that this negative attitude against increasing productivity rises in many situations. It is one of the greatest hindrances to progress in the Philippines. It is time to put it to rest. Increasing productivity is the only way to increase the standard of living. Do what is necessary for displaced workers today, but do not rob the children of their future.
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A national railway system will be tremendously expensive but it is a viable investment. In addition to the immediate effect of increasing employment, it will pay for itself in long-term economic benefits in a short time if it is well-planned and competently implemented and if it is built without corruption and graft. I know the Filipino is capable of the first. The second is a challenge.
* * *
I’m aware that the mere mention of a national project of this proportion will have the corrupt and greedy salivating like Pavlov’s dogs at the prospects of kickbacks, bribes and anomalous contracts. Is it possible to implement a national rail system without corruption? It will not be easy but I believe it can be done. The first and only essential requirement is that your President be absolutely incorruptible. A corollary is that President must enlist the aid of equally dedicated and incorruptible assistants. This is not a fairy tale. You may have to go back to the time of the one-peso movie admission to find examples, but it has happened in the past and it can happen now, Dr. Murphy underscored.
* * *
I have two other suggestions. The first is that international resources be tapped to minimize corruption and to detect and eliminate it when it does occur. I’m ambivalent about this suggestion because it implies that the Filipino cannot be trusted or is not competent to manage his own affairs. I offer it anyway for two reasons.
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Dr. Murphy underscored that the resources of the Philippines are not yet equal to those available from more developed countries. Utilizing help and technology from elsewhere is just smart and mature national strategy. Second, the history and the culture of the Philippines create conditions, which are inherently conducive to corruption and anomalous business practices. History includes the heritage from the Spanish times and from the Marcos Era. Cultural challenges include the tendency to place the interests of family and associates before national interests, utang na loob, pakikisama and the rest. Westerners, with a different cultural heritage and no local relationships, will be less subject to these kind of forces, although they, too, should be monitored closely.
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Dr. Murphy’s second suggestion is that this project intentionally be made a symbol of Filipino pride and of Filipino progress. Everyone who helps to bring it into reality should be aware that he is part of something grander and more significant than narrow self-interest.
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There is a story of three bricklayers who are asked what they are doing. The first replies, "I’m laying bricks." The second answers, "I’m making three hundred pesos a day." The third answers, "I’m building a cathedral."
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Everyone working on this project should know that he is building something extraordinary. This includes the manual laborer preparing the rail bed and laying the tracks, the accountant, contractor and the middle-level worker who makes the project happen, to the planner and the politician who conceptualizes it and makes it possible.

The vision of a national railroad bringing unity to the country and prosperity to the masses must be so clearly delineated that betraying the vision by stealing from it by

corruption or profiteering constitutes treason. Anyone guilty of corruption on this project will be a pariah, deserving of exposure, impeachment and prosecution.
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Dr. Murphy is not as naÔve as he sounds. He knows this is not fully possible. But then, it is possible to keep everyone inspired and united all the time. But an honest president who has a great vision and communicates that vision with enthusiasm and conviction can give us a glimpse of what we can be and make us better than we are.
* * *
Dr. Murphy said that that was the strength of US ex-president Reagan. If only ex-president Estrada had had discipline and integrity he could have been equally as great. Sayang. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo can do it.
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Dr. Murphy, in conclusion, concluded that a real national railway system will not only bring economic prosperity, it will serve to unify the country both symbolically and by making all parts of the country more accessible. It will be both a symbol and a specific, physical demonstration that the Philippines is now one nation, ready to take its proper place as an equal among nations. Fifty years from now, Filipinos from all regions and from all social classes will still be saying with pride, "I helped build that railroad." A Philippine National Railway System that is truly national is an idea whose time has come.
* * *
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY:

What people need today is not a brilliant mind
that speaks, but a loving a patient heart that listens.
Let us ask God to make our hearts bigger than our minds.
* * *
In every setback, one can find
the seeds of a future success.
But it will not be automatic.
One must plant those seeds with vision,
fertilize them with hope and hard work,
and water them with enthusiasm.
* * *
My e-mail addresses: jaywalker@pacific.net.ph and artborjal@yahoo.com

A PHILIPPINE NATIONAL RAILWAY SYSTEM BORDER CELLPADDING CENTER DR. MURPHY NATIONAL PHILIPPINES SYSTEM WIDTH
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