Paul Bryan Bio 

It was just an ordinary day for Rodolfo “Sangkay” Maurillo Gutierrez, 65, as he carried his wooden trolley along the now-abandoned tracks of Philippine National Railways (PNR) in front of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) in Santa Mesa, Manila. What made it different, however, was the recorded immense humidity brought by the 45 degrees Celsius heat index in Metro Manila on April 25th. 

Photo Manipulation by JL Nabulneg

He resides in an informal settlement just beside PNR. His small refuge is made up of tarpaulins and scraps of wood. But there are instances wherein it was forcibly removed by the authorities due to the ongoing railroad development. Eventually, he was given a spot not far from his current residence. In addition, Tatay Sangkay is also the oldest trolley driver and one of the pioneers of this dangerous and illegal mode of transportation in the area. 

According to him, he has been pushing trolley since 1977 as his primary source of income. At first, he started with a boundary system but when he was able to earn enough funds, he asked someone to build him his own trolley. Since then, the trolley has served as his bread and butter to support the financial needs of his lone Grade 11 son in Bulacan who also aspires to be a PUP student. 

“Natutustusan ko siya mag-aral dahil nag-iisa lang siya. Eh ‘yong kinikita ko rito lahat ko doon ipinapadala sa kanya,” he said. 

That same day, with just a cup of coffee for breakfast, Tatay Sangkay traversed the scorching tracks of PNR from four in the morning up until he felt like he couldn't stand the heat. He then resumed in the afternoon, but that day he only earned a total of PHP 100, enough for just two kilos of rice. 

LIVELIHOOD IN DANGER

On Maundy Thursday, April 28, PNR halted the operation of Governor Pascual-Tutuban and Tutuban-Alabang line to give way for the North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR) project of the government that is expected to connect New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac and Calamba, in Laguna. In a statement, Department of Transportation (DOTr) secretary Jaime Bautista stated that with the closure of PNR, it will speed up the project and can help the government to save an estimated amount of PHP 15.18 billion. 

Furthermore, under the “Build Better More” program of the Marcos Jr. administration, the DOTr received a total of PHP 214.3 billion this year, with 76% of it allocated to the rail transport program. The NSCR will benefit the most from this amount, receiving PHP 76.34 billion of the total funds. 

For Tatay Sangkay, this means death of his only source of income. He emphasized the decline in the number of his passengers ever since the pandemic and when the NSCR project kicked off. He said that one primary reason for the decrease is that the majority of them were PUP students. He also fears that with the construction of NSCR in progress, the DOTr will not allow them to transport passengers through the use of trolleys anymore. 

Tatay Sangkay, as what his student passengers called him, narrates his decades of experiences as the oldest trolley driver in Santa Mesa, Manila. | Photo Courtesy of Paul Bryan Bio

"'Yon nga ang iniisip ko — kung pa'no 'yong pagkakakitaan. Kung kaya ko pa nga pwede ako magbyahe ng pedicab," said Tatay Sangkay. 

Aside from that, another disconcerting consequence of the NSCR project is the fact that they have to leave the place. A memorandum brought him and his shelter in a precarious situation. But that reality does not worry Tatay Sangkay that much for he has other plans in mind. 

"Sa akin, walang problema. Ito [trolley], kayang gawing bahay. Kahit saan naman halimbawa may space, may payong naman kasi ako [na ikakabit]," he assured. 

HAMPERED COMMUTE 

While Tatay Sangkay’s shelter and livelihood will be jeopardized by the ongoing NSCR project, around 20,000 commuters will be affected by the five-year PNR closure. In a statement, DOTr assured the public that they will provide an “alternative mode of transportation” in the affected areas. Meanwhile, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) will deploy 50 buses in the affected routes. 

Of the 20,000 commuters who will embrace the burden of PNR closure, one of them is Jeanne Claude B. Crisostomo who studies at PUP Santa Mesa. Claude currently resides in Pasay City and is a passenger of PNR for almost a year now. In an online interview, he shared that he wasn't aware about PNR until his friend introduced it to him. Then that was the beginning of his railroad journey that lasted until PNR’s final trip. As PNR bids its goodbye for a while, he has to spend an extra amount of money. 

“Mas magastos dahil naging doble ‘yong halaga ng [pamasahe]... Dati po talaga 46 pesos lamang po ang pamasahe ko papunta at pauwi galing PUP. Pero ngayon po, 110 pesos na ang nagagastos kong pamasahe,” he shared.

The now-abandoned ruins of PNR tracks lie in front of PUP Santa Mesa amidst the recorded 45 degrees Celsius heat index in Metro Manila on April 25th while the construction for the NSCR project progresses beside. | Photo Courtesy of Paul Bryan Bio

Claude was not able to look for an alternative. Just to attend his classes, he has to travel by jeepney, followed by a train ride in LRT 1 before transferring to LRT 2. In his estimation, his travel time changes to 1 hour and 45 minutes compared to only 1 hour and 10 minutes in PNR.  That is why for him, he still chooses PNR over LRT when it comes to practicality, if only he has a choice. 

“Although mas maginhawa po ang pagsakay sa LRT, ngunit kung kaginhawaan naman po sa bulsa ang pag-uusapan, tunay na PNR ang siyang nakakatulong talaga sa mga komyuter,” he said. 

The struggles of Tatay Sangkay and Claude are just a microcosm of the problematic system that reflects the daily struggles of the marginalized sectors and the commuters. Tatay Sangkay's trolley and settlement are in imminent danger, and Claude suffers financial difficulties due to expensive fare rates. 

A HOPE AND MEMORIES 

PNR left a lot of memories to cherish in most of its passengers. From the memorable journeys to the stories of the masses that go beyond its train lines. In fact, days before its looming closure, some took a snap of PNR trains as a sort of memorabilia. Others have said that it is already their final glimpse of this iconic train system. 

Claude indeed shared a colorful train ride with PNR for almost a year. According to him, one thing that he would truly miss is the different faces and stories of the masses oin each train. The humanness and empathy of every passenger with each other is what makes PNR unique. 

“Nakakakita ako ng iba't ibang mukha ng mga tao na kung saan nararamdaman ko rin ang pagod nila sa buhay gaya na lamang ng mga kapwa ko estudyante, mga pamilya at mga construction workers. Kung saan bilang isang estudyante, namamangha ako dahil sa kabila ng pagod na dala nila, mas pinipili pa rin nilang maging positibo sa buhay,” he recalled. 

“[Minsan naririnig ko pa], “konting istasyon na lang at makakauwi na tayo” at binibigkas nila ito nang may ngiti pa rin sa kanilang mga labi,” Claude added. 

Meanwhile, on that scorching afternoon of April 25th, Tatay Sangkay was about to buy his water to drink at a refilling station nearby. He had already brought two kilos of rice and the remaining 15 pesos of his hard-earned money that day will be allocated for his drinking water. 

“Sabi ko nga sa anak ko, ‘wag mo’ko gayahin. Tingnan mo, iniwan ako ng mama mo dahil wala akong natapos,” Tatay Sangkay opened up while he was on his way. 

For Tatay Sangkay, he cannot prevent the NSCR construction. However, what he could hope for is a relocation site that is close to a livelihood for him to sustain the education of his only child. A subsidy from the government he said can also help him start just in case authorities will mandate a total ban in his trolley business. 

For some, their life depends on the train. But with the likes of Tatay Sangkay, the PNR track is where his livelihood and son's dream relies. It is like a life support that could cause a sudden demise of hopes when turned off. 

A lot of untold narratives dwell in the railroads of PNR. And that one blazing afternoon, Tatay Sangkay and Claude unfolded why PNR truly matters. That amidst the promise of modernization and development, there are sectors in the society who will suffer the five long years of agony and possibly, a long-term calvary.