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Rough Cuts | Is a Samal bridge project sustainable?

Many residents of the Island Garden City of Samal (IGaCoS or Samal for short), and most if not all political leaders of the Davao Region may have long dreamed of having a bridge that would connect the island to the Davao mainland.

As early as when we arrived in Davao City fresh from college in the middle of the 70s we already heard of promises from politicians during election seasons that they will work for the realization of the bridge. Their argument is that once a bridge is built and Samal is connected to the mainland, development of the island would come in double time.

So, year after year, administration after administration the planners of the project did not stop their pursuit. The dreamers keep on dreaming of the project. They explore every possibility that this would be realized.

Samal residents and all those who see themselves greatly benefitted from the project did not also stop badgering their political leaders reminding them of their commitment. From the Marcos regime where they had pinned their hope because of the closeness of one political kingpin in Davao to the late Malacañang tenant, to the Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to Noynoy Aquino administrations the proposed bridge project was continuously laid on the table. But seemingly it was just that. After being laid and perhaps given some kind of a ceremonial glance, the plan could have been moved to the confines of the archives of government agencies tasked to review infrastructure projects. And the long wait for the realization starts all over again.

Then the flicker of light that keeps the hope burning suddenly burst into flame when former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was elected President of the country in 2016. Government activities relevant to the Samal bridge project came into frenzy.

So after several feasibility studies, reviews of the cost estimate and supposedly consultations with stakeholders involved, reports filtered to the public that the project was already a GO. The report triggered jubilation among the dreamers especially those who believe that they could end up among the first to receive manna from the project implementation. After all, with the go signal from the government’s project advisory board, what is left is the bidding to contractors and the order to commence building.

But the question seeking a definite and transparent answer is, “How were the claimed consultative meetings with stakeholders conducted?”

This question really begs for an answer because now that the go-signal is given one apolitical stakeholder came out in public complaining. And to think that the family raising the complaint is considered a pioneer in setting in motion the tourism industry in Samal. Yes, we are referring to the family of Dr. Julian Rodriguez Jr. who owns the Paradise Island Resort, a staunchly environment-friendly beach establishment.

But we do not think the Rodriguezes are opposing the construction of the bridge. What they are probably complaining about is what they possibly believed poorly-thought and even arbitrary nature of choosing their property as the location for the Samal approach of the bridge.

From where we are perched we entertain this notion that the Rodriguezes could be right in their protestations. Yes, what leads the bridge proponents into deciding that the location of the Samal approach be at the heart of the family property in the island city? Is it the cost component? Is it the distance from the mainland? Or are there other considerations that the land owners concerned do not have compared to the others who also have properties along the seashore fronting Davao City at its nearest point.

Another question that we feel should be given an answer that would not confuse the public is whether the bridge is one sustainable project as far as Samal is concerned. Had the planners forgotten that the backbone of Samal’s economy is the tourism industry? Are they aware that the sales pitches of the city for tourists to come are its fine beaches, pristine water, and the availability of nature’s gifts?

We agree though, as may be the Rodriguez family will, that the construction of the bridge will bring in huge number of job opportunities both for the locals in Samal and perhaps from other nearby cities.

But there is no doubt that the bridge will also destroy whatever trees left standing on its way. And it definitely endangers the livelihood of people working on the resorts like the one owned by the Rodriguezes, as well as those supplying the needs of local and foreign tourists that are not available in the resorts.

Not only that. Once the bridge is completed, Samal will become another Mactan island in Cebu — over-crowded, dirty, humongous traffic, sleazy nightlife, and increased crimes. Worst, Samal’s lands and businesses will not anymore be owned by local residents but by those who have the means from outside and taken advantage of the change in property value.

It is likely that once the Samal approach is not relocated to a more development neutral beach line area, the hundreds of workers of the resort of the Rodriguez family as well as the adjoining ones will start drifting into the more urban area of IGaCoS, or perhaps in the nearby Davao City or Panabo, or even Tagum City in Davao del Norte. And soon enough the displaced workers and small ambulant vendors will be joining the agglomeration of informal settlers in city slums.

But what really made it so easy for the bridge planners and proponents to identify the Rodriguez family property as the site of the Samal side approach? We know no one from the government is willing to give a direct answer.

So we are taking some risks of making our own thought surface. The Rodriguez family could be victims of the influential connections of the owners of nearby properties in the Samal side, and of their own neutrality in the mainland and Samal political dynamics.

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