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ROUGH CUTS | The desire, the promise

THE desire, the promise; These sound like titles of movies with the latter a Daniel Padilla and Kathryn Bernardo starrer. 

     But no, these are not. Instead these are the long standing wish of the people in the Davao Region and the still-to-be complied promise of several administrations of the Republic of the Philippines starting from that of the late Ferdinand Marcos, the late President Cory Aquino, then to her anointed one Fidel V. Ramos, to his successor by landslide Joseph Estrada, to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to the son of Cory, the late Benigno Simeon Aquino III, and to the incumbent Rodrigo Roa Duterte. We are referring to  the Davao mainland-Samal Island connector bridge. 

     Yes, as early as when we relocated ourselves in Davao City in the late 70s when we were fresh from college we already heard talks from people converged on roadsides, coffee shops, chanced meetings, and even in government offices and group activities, the collective desire for their dream to see one day the neighboring island accessible from the mainland through a bridge. The expectation was strong during the Marcos years because of the apparent close connection of the local governments in the region because the late Don Antonio Floirendo, an Ilocano like Marcos, who was virtually calling the shots in politics in this part of Mindanao. He was the acknowledged political kingmaker and his influence over the top national leadership was strong. Because of this, many in the Southern Mindanao region then believed that the Marcos era was the time of the realization of the people’s wish for the construction of the bridge.

     Unfortunately, Marcos was driven out of office and was exiled in Hawaii until his death. His top man in the region, despite his effort to appease the hatred of the people running the new government, somehow became a ‘reclose’ and his business empire was object of several investigations. A new power broker came about who later continued to have the hope of a bridge kept burning. Then other administrations followed with each having its own link-man here. And the bridge project was still an animated subject during planning conferences and renewing of political promises for the people in this part of the country. Again the dream remained nebulous and nothing came out of the wish for a Davao-Samal bridge beyond its blue print.

     When former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was catapulted to the Presidency, people in the region whether they are natives or migrants from other places in the country, became bullish in their desire to strongly push for the bridge project. The people that time thought that nothing can stop the project implementation. While the bridge is not a direct commitment of the Davaoeno President since it is an inherited promise of previous national leaders, it cannot be helped if they would be expecting him to pursue the project. He is from here and he was without doubt a party to the continuing submission of the bridge proposal administration after administration, having headed the Regional Development Council (RDC). Thus, the promise was passed on to him being the man at the helm of the national government.

     But five years and four months into his administration, roughly eight months remaining of Duterte’s term, the bridge or any semblance of it, can’t still be found. Instead, what are dominating discussions on the project are the controversy attendant to its funding requirement, the location of its Samal side approach, and the sudden bloating of its cost from the low budget bridge construction in the JICA-funded feasibility study to the substantially expanded cost under a study made by a Hongkong-based consultancy firm. Despite the enormous increase however, the government is convinced that the big budgeted proposal is the better option.

     Of course the proponent of the new feasibility study and the government officials directly involved in the project implementing plan have their ready justification. This time the bridge will be longer hence the quantity and quality of materials and workmanship must be enhanced.

     Yet in all these, there were several issues raised on the viability and acceptability of the location of the bridge that apparently have been negated in the final consideration made by the government. Why did government prefer to do away with the JICA proposal as well as its recommendation for the site of the bridge’s approaches, especially that of the Samal side?  There were two areas identified and are not currently in bigtime commercial use. In both sites the budget needed for the bridge was still lower than the present one. Second, there were hardly any businesses to be affected. And third, perhaps the more morally apt for serious discernment, is the certainty of the destruction of the underwater resources in the so-called Paradise Reef that will be traversed by the approved location. And this is not even including the number of people losing their livelihood if the area where the pioneering tourist establishment in Samal, the Paradise Island Resort, will be forced to close down. Paradise Island Resort is the identified location of the Samal approach under the new design and route. As consequence the management of the resort, the people working and doing business with it, the environmentalists, are jointly filing an appeal to the Office of the President through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to reconsider the location of the Samal approach. We have yet to hear of any response to the appeal.

     Why has the project been delayed this late and how come despite the delay, oppositions still remain? We can only assume that there were no substantial consultations with the various stakeholders of the project. And if at all there were, then those who initiated the consultative discussions merely had them as means of complying the processes, Seemingly, they do not have the intention of considering the issues raised, or making adjustments or responding to recommendations from the stakeholders except those who have the influence and have extended debts of gratitude to politicians. Now with the bridge project they are ready to collect.

                                                                          

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