The first car my father owned was a white painted jeep of an indeterminate vintage with which he, in the course of his medical practice, traversed the bumpy and potholed dirt tracks which passed for roads in the Lianga area in the 1960’s. Vehicles of that type, modified from the legendary American military jeep of the immediate post-World War II era were the first automobiles to make their appearance in the very early days of the infant road system in the eastern part of Mindanao.
That jeep, despite having a quirky four-wheel drive system (it occasionally refused to engage when it was desperately needed) and an unforgiving, bone-jarring, rock-hard suspension which was hard on both the body and spirit of the queasy, neophyte traveler, managed to always get him where he wanted to go with the minimum of fuss. It was dependable, sturdy as a tank and simple enough to maintain even for somebody with just the passing acquaintance with the car mechanic’s art.
In 1972, my father finally and reluctantly parted with his much beloved jeep and formed an immediate and affectionate bond with a German Volkswagen beetle sedan which was to last for more than two decades. That car matched his personality to a T. It was unpretentious, totally unglamorous and, for many, an ugly excuse for a car. Yet it was built with consummate engineering skill like a Swiss watch and was just as reliable. It carried him and his growing family safely and reliably for hundreds of kilometers all around the Lianga area and beyond through the worst of road conditions and in all kinds of weather.
Then 1995, he finally got himself a pick-up truck with air conditioning and all the amenities of the modern automobile but by that time he was already more of a passenger than a driver. But even then his choice of the car he bought for his family was dictated not by his choice of style or preferred type or design. It was always his old adversary, the dreaded roads of Lianga that called the shots. Only the sturdiest of road vehicles that can survive its challenges merited his attention and vied for his choice.
If my father were alive today he would probably shed a few tears at the slow but gradual passing into history of the dirt roads that were so much a major part of his life in Lianga. In the past year or so the rehabilitation of Surigao del Sur’s once feared rough country roads and their conversion into modern, concrete-paved highways has been slow but inexorable.
The old, wooden Bailey bridges with their metal railings are, one by one, giving way to smart and modern steel and concrete bridges linked by kilometers of grey ribbons of cemented highways. The once steep, muddy and treacherous slopes have been blasted and dynamited into submission. What once were narrow, winding and rocky dirt tracks have been straightened and widened into proper roads and prepared for concreting. Progress is slowly making its mark on the once desolate and lonely stretches of the Lianga countryside.
My father once said that he doubted he would still be alive to see the emergence of a truly modern road system in Lianga and its province of Surigao del Sur. He had lived through decades of false promises from politicians, national government officials and functionaries. And he was right. When he passed away in 1996, much of the local road system then was much what they have been for almost a generation; rough, decrepit and treacherous.
Even nowadays when I can see with my own eyes the evidence of the road infrastructure work going on at full blast, part of me remains perversely and stubbornly unconvinced that progress has indeed come our way. I am tempted to say to myself, “Ok, I have managed to live to see the beginnings of the modern road and highway system come to Lianga. The heavens be praised.”
The question that remains, however, is whether I and my generation, after so many years of government inaction and vacillation, can be faulted if we fervently express the the fondest of hopes that we will all live to see it completely finished and operational soon ....... within our lifetime if you please.