Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Before NLEX, what road did people use to travel to the north? Old McArthur Highway.

Before SLEX, what road did people use to travel to the south? I don’t know.

C-4 is EDSA (Highway 54); C-5 is a popular alternate route to EDSA; C-6 will connect NLEX and SLEX through a planned Lakeshore Highway near Laguna Lake. Do people still remember C-1, C-2, and C-3?

In the Disney animated film Cars, Radiator Springs was once a famous stop-over for motorists along Route 66. But the construction of an interstate highway gave the people a faster route towards their destinations. Radiator Springs was soon abandoned by many residents, business establishments, and motorists. It became a ghost town.

When NLEX was constructed, did it create ghost towns in McArthur Highway? How did residents survive if their livelihoods depend on tourists and motorists who use the highway?

Thanks to NLEX, we can arrive in Baguio in 5-6 hours but we are deprived of the chance to pass through several historic towns in Bulacan and Pampanga like Malolos and Apalit. Soon, NLEX will be extended up to La Union. What towns in Tarlac and Pangasinan will be erased from our mental map?

Before the Pinatubo eruption, buses passed through the towns of Mabalacat, Bamban, and Capas (remember the Death March?). After the eruption and the destruction of several bridges in the area, buses diverted to Concepcion to reach Tarlac City. Today, buses still use the Concepcion route. What happened to the socio-economic profiles of the towns in the old route? What happened to the famous Wonderland Resort in Bamban?

The “world-class” Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway allows us to reach Subic in less than two hours. Travel time between Clark and Subic economic hubs is now only 40 minutes. Impressive. But the message is clear: The endgoal is to reach Subic and Clark. Forget old towns like Lubao, Dinalupihan, San Fernando, and Olongapo.

Soon, SLEX will be extended up to Lucena. What towns in Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon will be erased from our mental map?

This can be an interesting subject for an anthropological study: the socio-economic and cultural local impact of abandoning old highways. How do small suburban communities adapt as motorists withdraw from using nearby old highways? When famous highways lose their strategic value, do they become notorious and killer roads where criminality and traffic accidents are rampant?

Modern highways are established to connect places and to move people faster. In the so-called fast-paced world, a modern highway is an essential infrastructure to increase mobility in society and to promote economic growth. However, developers and engineers often only draw a straight line on a map to connect two destination points. They rarely consider the historic value of towns that will be bypassed. They sometimes ignore the natural curving of the land. If a mountain is blocking the route of a proposed new highway, developers will blast that unwanted lump of land (similar to what they did in SCTEX). If they can demolish shantytowns, they are capable of destroying the unclaimed, untitled natural resources of the country. A minor sin that will serve a bigger cause (like faster travel time to smuggle hot goods).

This quote from the film Cars captures the change in attitude of planners in designing road networks: “(Forty-years ago), the road didn’t cut through the land like that interstate. It moved with the land, it rose, it fell, it curved. Cars didn’t drive on it to make great time. They drove on it to have a great time.”

We use the NLEX because it saves us time. It makes travel faster and more convenient. The destination, not the journey, is more important to urbanites like us. We use the SLEX for the same reasons. Did SLEX prevent the conceptualization of a road network that would have provided us with a magnificent glimpse of the majestic Laguna Lake? Instead of designing a lakeside highway, we chose a faster but less scenic route to exit Metro Manila.

Why? Because we value time so much. We want efficient roads that would quickly transport us to other places. We have no time to enjoy and experience the rural scenery. We are not artists anyway. We want to escape the pesky and perpetual problems like traffic and dirt which are prevalent in old towns. We want to travel like modern citizens in modern cities. We want superhighways.

Because of faster travel time (thanks to the wide, clean and expensive highways), we have more time to spare. And what do we do with our free time? Do we use it to solve the world’s problems? Do we devote more time to enhance our knowledge? Or perhaps we are using it to watch more TV shows and to update our Facebook pages?

To pass through the old highways is to revisit fragments of the past and to confront the third world realities of our society. In these once famous highways, cars run slower on narrow and dilapidated streets. Giant trucks, overloaded vans, and unregistered vehicles collide with tricycles, wooden carts, stray animals, and jaywalkers. Traffic lights are unreliable; traffic laws are obeyed sometimes. These are some of the spectacles which are now hidden from our eyes.

The modern history of the Republic is buried in these old highways. Through these almost-forgotten roads, a nation was built. The least we can do is to memorialize these once great highways.

Related articles:

GPS and travel
National roads
Rough roads

3 Responses to “Old Highways”

  1. C-3 is in Caloocan connecting Araneta Ave extension and Navotas Fishport are. C-2 is in Manila near Manila Port Area. The other road connecting Navotas Fishport and Letre, Caloocan is known as C-4


  2. Afaik, SLEX replaced the National Highway which ran from Muntinlupa through Binan all the way up to Los Banos and beyond. In the old times too people traveled by rail. You might want to consider this fact too, when PNR had an extensive network of buses and trains in Luzon and there was prestige in riding the Bicol Express. 😉


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