FAST BACKWARD: Railroad as 1937 casualty

The plan to build a railway system in Mindanao was first hatched in 1899 but the submission of a serious study on the concept did not happen until in 1922 after American P.J. Wester, an agricultural advisor, made a study on the feasibility of the Mindanao railway system.

Due to fiscal deficiency given the huge appropriation involved in the undertaking, the plan was archived. In 1937, on the year Davao was elevated to a city, the railway plan was again revived, but like in the previous attempt to put it on track, the project was again shelved.

In the 1937 Five-Year Road Program made of Marcial Kasilag, commissioner for Mindanao and Sulu, he explained the reason for the cancellation of the envisaged railroad system that would have linked Davao City to the port of Cagayan, Misamis Oriental.

The report, which saw print in the September 1937 issue of The Journal of American Chamber of Commerce, enumerated the issues needing to be addressed to ensure the proposed project would work efficiently when finally put in operation.

Among the concerns were the power source needed to operate the wagons, supplemental roads connecting to the railway system, availability of transports that bring passengers and cargoes to and fro the railroads, and the introduction of fast boats that service the Cagayan-Manila route on time.

Commissioner Kasilag, the country’s first registered civil engineer and the father of National Artist for Music Lucrecia Kasilag, reported:

“It is understood that this proposed railroad will utilize for its power the great potential energy stored in the Maria Cristina Falls in Lanao province and in the Polangui river flowing between the provinces of Bukidnon and Davao. Should this railway project be carried out it will have to be supplemented by roads as feeders, and our five-year program will have to be revised to avoid the construction of roads paralleling the railroad and thus prevent the destructive competition for traffic, such as now exists between the railroad companies and the motor truck transportation companies operating in the islands of Luzon and Cebu. If this proposed railroad is constructed, it will necessarily require as its complimentary service the operation of fast boats between Manila and Cagayan, Oriental Misamis, so that the time of travel between Manila and Cagayan de Misamis could be reduced to about 24 hours, and in conjunction with the proposed railroad, the travel between Davao and Manila can be accomplished within 30 hours.”

To compensate for the setting aside of the Mindanao railway project, the commissioner still managed to include in the short-term program several road projects that would become significant contributors to the development of Mindanao during the liberation years.

The list of projects, mainly roads, with relevance to Davao region included the following:

 Known as Project No. 11, this proposed interprovincial road would serve as the shortest connecting link from Davao City to the port of Iligan, between the provinces of Lanao and Bukidnon, traversing terrains suited for corn, fruit trees, coffee, cacao and cattle-raising.

On the other hand, Project No. 23, a proposed road connecting the east coast of Davao with the provincial capital by way of Compostela and Camanza (Montevista), then a municipal district on the Davao-Agusan inter-provincial road, was designed to develop the extensive agricultural land around Compostela and the Cateel River valley.

The project dubbed as Project No. 24, meanwhile, was a proposed coastal road connecting the municipalities of Cateel and Baganga on the east coast of Davao. It was complemented by Project No. 25, a proposed road on the east coast of the gulf of Davao linking with the Davao-Agusan interprovincial road at Tagum (now a city) and serving the municipalities of Pantukan, Lupon and Mati (now a city).

Three other proposes roads of import were listed in the five-year agenda. The Project No. 26 was a proposed road serving as short link between the Davao-Agusan and the Davao-Bukidnon interprovincial roads and would help develop the interior region of northwest Davao.

Project No. 27, on the other hand, was an undertaking designed as an interprovincial road between Davao and Bukidnon provinces, starting from Guianga, Davao City, and connecting with the Bukidnon-Cotabato interprovincial road. This was conceived to provide a direct route from Davao City to the port of Cagayan, in Misamis Oriental.

Meanwhile, Project No. 28, an interprovincial road between Bukidnon and Cotabato, starting from the finished road at Mailag, Bukidnon, and connecting with Kabakan, a municipal district of Cotabato, was devised to link with the completed Cotabato-Davao interprovincial road.

But there were other Davao initiatives of note that were also proposed under the five-year road program. Among the key projects were the construction of the Talomo Bridge (near Coca-Cola plant), the Davao Waterworks Reservoir and Silting Basin, the Suspension bridge over Digos River (near Caños Hospital), and the Governor Generoso Bridge at Bankerohan.

While most of these projects were executed, the advent of war and the Japanese invasion of Davao affected their completion. Further aggravated by the aerial bombs that destroyed Mindanao, these public works resembled ruins when the city was liberated.