Bagong Nayon the place where I was born in 1951 was known before as “Rilis” because of the presence of a railway station in Baliwag. It was one of the train stops of the Balagtas-Cabanatuan Lines. The “Rilis” name has become synonymous to a place where squatter lives. These people squat on unattended government properties such as railroad. The government, for lack of forward vision was unmindful of this early on and through the years squatters along the railroad track mushroomed until they become a social problem.
For political reasons, the enthusiasm to develop a Philippine Railway System waned during the presidencies of Elpidio Quirino, Carlos P. Garcia, and Diosdado Macapagal. An evidence of this was the twice abandonment of the Balagtas-Cabanatuan Line. One was after World War II, but reopened in 1969, and the second was in the 1980’s. As Gary L. Satre, a US Navy Journalist, and a railway enthusiast who obtained a Master Degree in University of Philippines had said in his article, “The Cagayan Valley Extension Project,” although there were research and studies made for the viability of the railway transportation project, it suffered “analysis paralysis”.
The twice abandoned railroad properties within the proximity of the Baliwag railway station up to the Southwest entrance of Barangay Sto. Cristo had been home for most of the residents of “Riles”. At the junction between P. Enrile St., (part of the Baliwag-Candaba Road) renamed Marcos Ave., during the Marcos Administration, then reincarnated as Benigno Aquino Ave., and the railroad track, became the nucleus of “Rilis”. It had the semblance of a small town where several small businesses thrived.
Five “sari-sari” stores serviced the “Rilis” residents: that of Aling Pacing, Aling Sining, Aling Barang, Aling Maring, and Aling Gunding. Around the nucleus, too, were two rice mills; that of the St. Augustine Rice Mill, its remnants still exists to this day, and that of the FACOMA, which sell farm products, too. Mr. Benito Velasco, who once owned one of the two-story houses, used his ground floor as bicycle and tricycle parts store. He has fleet of pedicab for rent then. Across Aling Sining’s Store, was the two-storey house of the Acuna Family which used half of their ground floor as a “Palay” buying station.
The five “sari-sari” stores were the morning hangouts for coffee or breakfast of the rice field workers hired by an absentee landlord, pedicab drivers and other hangers on hungry for gossips. Among the five sari-sari stores, that of Aling Pacing was the busiest. I hated when doing an errand there. As I bought stuff on credit, I was given the least attention. And when finally, I would get served, prying eyes of the gossipers ogled because the goods I bought were recorded on the wall of an empty shelf bannered like a newspaper headline. Under the heading chalked in with the handwriting of a grade-two pupil says, “Di pede utang ngayon, bukas na lang” on the subheading listed my father’s name “kanor panga” (I did not know
why my father has that “panga” appendage on his name. My father’s jaw was not abnormal… Later, someone told me that my father was a daring guy, “pangahas,” they say). Underneath his name, items like tuyo, sardinas, tinapay, suka, mantika, bawang, sigarilyo, etc., were chalked in with their respective amount. “kanor panga” was not the only name listed on the wall, there were others. As the list grew, Aling Pacing would move some of her goods on display to make room for the debt list. Later, the debt list instead of the merchandise had more exposure. The list under my father’s name remained as part of the headline until my father paid them. I wondered if it was Aling Pacing’s shaming tactic. It was not. It was just a simple defective system running a business.
For some reasons “Rilis” built up a reputation as the “Tondo” of Baliwag. People from the Polacion area, according to stories, believed that “Rilis” residents were all thugs. Complaints flew around that whenever strangers got strayed at “Rilis” they would get mugged. Tricycle drivers who were not from “Rilis” were afraid to take “Rilis” passengers.
In 1967, one event highlighted the “ghetto” characteristics of the “Rilis” residents. At around 8:00 in the evening, the train that passes the junction pierced the tail end of 10-wheeler truck loaded with “palay”. The train slowed down while pulling the trunk of the truck until it disengaged. Around 500 yards of Marcos Avenue road covered with 2 ft., high of grains. The loud explosion drawn the whole population of “Rilis” to the scene. At first, the people were just onlookers and gossiping. No authorities arrived yet on the scene. Then an enterprising individual, pale in hand scooped the grain and put it on a bigger pale, then gone. Another one joined the prey. Then another one. The looting started. Few seconds, it was like pandemonium. The Chief of Police of Baliwag came. Camacho, his name was. He climbed up on the pile of grain still in sacks, with a megaphone, telling people to stop. Nobody listened. When the reinforcement of police came to the scene, Camacho fired a warning shot. Just then the commotion stopped, but the grains spelt on the ground most of them gone.
The incident was the subject matter of a class discussion about the kind of “aggravating circumstances” on the commission of a crime by our Philippines Problems, teacher, Mr. Ortega. “Do you know…?” he asked, “what do you call those people looting in the midst of a disaster?” The class was quiet. Mr. Ortega went to the blackboard and chalked in an acronym in big letters: MAGMAPAKASIBA. “Magnanakaw, mapagsamantala sa kasawian ng iba… That is an example of aggravating circumstances,” he said. Several of us in class lived in “Rilis”. I felt slighted of Mr. Ortega’s sweeping indictments. It drove home a point, though.
Not all residents of “Rilis” were thugs, as some residents of the Barangay Poblacion believed. Some are educated, professionals, and well-meaning individuals. The irony was just that they kept a low profile, disengaged in social issues. A politically inclined individual and a poet, however, lobbied to his political friends in Baliwag to change the “Rilis” name to a “Bagong Nayon” to somehow degrade that “ghetto” reputation and project a wholesome image of our barrio. He succeeded. The poet’s name was Mr. Virgilio Cruz, also known as “Veyo”.
Bagong Nayon is squeezed between Barangay Sto. Cristo on the South West, and the Barangay Subic on the North East. Both Barangays gave off their portion adjacent to Bagong Nayon to qualify the latter as a barangay and not just as “sityo”. On Bagong Nayon, housed the Municipal Building of Baliwag constructed in 1971, under the mayorship of Florentino Vergel de Dios, and the Mariano Ponce High School. Three rice field areas turns into subdivisions; Dona Enriqueta Subd., New Frontier Subd., and Fernando Subd… On the Bagong Nayon’s fringes, from the West, going southwest is the National Irrigation Canal. Along this canal, squat about 10 families. My family was one of them. The octagonal dimension, plus the railroad track that dissects the middle comprised the whole area of Bagong Nayon with a population now of 5,994 according to 2010 Census.
Who would have thoughts that the backward and “ghetto” reputation of “Rilis”, renamed Bagong Nayon, transformed into a modern town within the town of Baliwag surpassing its neighboring barangays. Many branded national business names are now in operation in Bagong Nayon to the envy of other localities. It is because, like Baliwag, Bagong Nayon is blessed with good location.