In Lucena City, balance of heritage, rail need approaches
LUCENA CITY—The country’s only railway company has been given the green light to restore a train station here built nearly a century ago and which would be one of the key components of a project to revive the so-called “Bicol Express” train run that had been derailed by many factors, mainly neglect.
Joseline Geronimo, officer in charge of the state-run Philippine National Railways (PNR), said PNR had been given a permit by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) to go ahead with the restoration of the railway station in this city, which had been built in 1918.
“We now have permission,” said Geronimo.
The NCCA is the government agency in charge of preserving structures that had been classified as part of national heritage, or those that are 50 years old or older.
Geronimo said the next step for PNR is to secure permits from the city government.
The Inquirer obtained a copy of the NCCA letter approving the restoration project from Councilor Rhaetia Marie Abcede-Llaga.
The NCCA “interposes no objection” to the restoration of the train station, according to the letter dated Sept. 19 and signed by Marichu Tellano, NCCA acting executive director.
The NCCA, however, laid down conditions for the restoration project—that plans submitted for the project “be complied with faithfully” and that “immovable heritage properties” that are already existing or would be built in the site “may be declared collectively as a cultural property of the country.”
Tellano said the city government is the “final approving authority” of the restoration project.
PNR had been trying to clear the way for the restoration project since getting approval from the NCCA.
On Oct. 12, PNR wrote Lucena Mayor Roderick Alcala informing him of the NCCA decision.
Alcala, however, said PNR has yet to complete the documentary requirements for the project.
“Once PNR submits all necessary documents, we will allow the work to resume,” said the mayor.
In September last year, Alcala ordered PNR to stop the P15.3-million restoration project for lack of city permits.
The mayor directed PNR engineers to return parts of the building that had been removed and restore the structure to its original form.
PNR argued that its charter exempts it from local requirements.
But a city building official said local permits are still needed for national projects although these are exempt from payment of fees.
Heritage protection advocates have been opposing the project on the ground that construction work on historical landmarks should be done only with the approval of the NCCA.
Republic Act No. 10066 (National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009) defines structures that are at least 50 years old as “important cultural property protected from exploitation, modification or demolition.”
The train station here could be hardly mistaken for a major historical landmark based on its current appearance.
Wild grass now grow around it. The top of its stone wall facade is barely standing. The letter “L” in its iconic marker that spells “Lucena” had disappeared.
The building’s interior had been divided into several partitions. Among the parts of the structure that are still standing are concrete posts in the passenger platform that are now used to support extended roofs.
The safety barrier and warning lights at the railroad crossing on Quezon Avenue here had long been broken.
Abcede-Llaga asked the city government, through the Lucena Council for Culture and Arts and the city engineering office, to closely monitor the resumption of the restoration work.
She is also inviting heritage protection advocates, civil society groups and concerned residents to help ensure the preservation of the station, which had been rebuilt into a concrete structure in 1938, the year PNR sent off its first Bicol-bound train.
The city government, said Abcede-Llaga, is now in the process of obtaining an official declaration of the PNR station as a heritage structure.
The resumption of the Manila-Bicol train service, which covers a distance of more than 377 kilometers, had been originally scheduled on Dec. 15 but was postponed until next year after an inspection by PNR engineers showed obstructions, like houses and other structures, blocking parts of the railway.
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