When it comes to making our personal position on issues about introduction of development projects that supposedly redound to the welfare of communities we always seek guidance in a statement made by a favorite professor of ours. He was Dr. Domingo Mariano who taught a subject in a diploma program on government administration at the University of Southeastern Philippines (USeP) way back in the mid 80’s. It was a program for government employees introduced by a consortium composed of USeP, the University of the Philippines, and Ateneo de Davao University.
Professor Mariano flew in from Manila only once a month. However, he also holds his class with us two straight half days on weekends. During those years we were working with the Commission on Population (PopCom) as Senior Population Research Assistant. His favorite quote was, “The real measure of development is when there are more beneficiaries than sufferers.” In effect we took it to mean that in implementing development projects some people are bound to suffer even as there are those who welcome and rejoice about its implementation. But the project is deemed successful if the beneficiaries far outnumber the sufferers.
Seemingly it sounds fair. But what if the process of determining the site where the development project is to be located is possibly arbitrary and seemingly unilateral? What if the process is bereft of thorough consultations and the choice of a site is premised on the cost factor? Or what if the consideration of a site is more of the level of influence that the owners of alternative areas are stronger to the decision makers?
We are raising these questions as the opposition to the construction of the multi-billion peso Davao mainland-Samal Island bridge started to unfold lately. It was far from our expectation that the opposition would come from the Rodriguez family in Sasa whose members are known advocates of good governance and with unquestioned hearts for the less privileged in the community. In fact it is our personal knowledge that the Rodriguez family was the one who pioneered in the now booming tourism industry in Samal by opening the Paradise Island Resort.
At the onset of the 70’s when development organizations advocating for this and that causes were sprouting like mushrooms the Rodriguez family patriarch Julian “Ching” Rodriguez Jr. was among the very few Davaoeños who wanted to harmonize development programs and projects intended to be introduced in the communities. Mr. Rodriguez Jr. was one among the few who formed and launched the Coordinating Council of Organizations in Davao (CCOD). By the name itself it is clear that CCOD was a product of consultative and coordinating endeavors intending to instill the tedious process of consultation and coordination in order to come up with more viable, beneficial and sustainable development projects.
Of course the CCOD that Mr. Rodriguez helped found slowly withered with the coming in of a more aggressive and activist generation of Davaoeños who have ready alternative ideas and prefer to fight the status quo in order to have their way or at least make society know they are around.
The decision to have the Samal approach of the bridge traverse the Rodriguez property which is the site of the pioneer tourism establishment in the island, apparently could not possibly be a product of proper coordination and consultation.
We could not remember reading or hearing news report of consultative meetings where oppositions were raised by this and that land owners or business establishments likely to be affected by the project. So we could not help but doubt if there were consultation meetings that were conducted at all. Had there been and the more significant stakeholders where invited to join, how could the Rodriguezes not raise howls much earlier and gave their reasons for doing so?
Moreover, if there were indeed consultations with relevant community stakeholders these could not have escaped the prowling eyes of the local media people who are always hungry for news worthy issues like multi-million peso projects that are sources of corruption in government. And no one sane property owner will wait until a final decision to use his or her property as part of the project site is already made before coming out raising his/her disagreement.
In other words there is likelihood that the Rodriguezes were blind-sided in the consultation process and possibly the decision to use their property for the Samal approach of the bridge was already conditioned in the minds of the decision makers.
We have no doubt that the government through the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is ready to compensate the family for the loss of their affected properties. Possibly too, the amount of compensation will be more than enough to tie them over for the rest of their lifetime.
Nevertheless, we feel safe to assume that there could be other nobler considerations for their decision to strongly oppose the government decision, to the point that they have to elevate their case to a much higher plane. They have to resort to filing a Petition for the Issuance of a Writ of Kalikasan.
Yes, knowing the hearts of the Rodriguez family for the less privileged they could be thinking of the fate of their resort’s many employees and other community residents making a living from the patronage of resort guests.
The bridge construction will definitely result to the closure of the pioneer resort thereby displacing the workers and other owners of ambulant enterprises catering to tourists.
For certain the Rodriguez family members know they can survive the possible cessation of their business in the area. But what they cannot be certain, as we too are, is the impact of the closure on the lives of those who will be displaced.
May be the DPWH owe the people of Davao, and the Rodriguez family as well, a transparent public disclosure of the reason or reasons why the decision of locating the Samal approach of the bridge is somewhat fixated on the Rodriguez land.
Are there no other less disturbing alternative sites? If the DPWH cannot, then may be the Regional Office of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) can come in and help. The more these government agencies remain silent the more intriguing the circumstances of the Rodriguez opposition become.