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ROUGH CUTS | Perhaps, not in our lifetime

WILL the Samal Island-Davao mainland connector bridge ever be realized within the lifetime of our generation? We who were in the prime of our years when we first heard of the conceptualization of the project close to half a century ago.

     It was in 1975 when we moved to Davao City after being lured by all the good things talked about of this “Land of Promise.” We were fresh from college and were rearing to go into exploring for whatever was in store for us and what we thought then that could be within the ambit of our educational and physical preparations.

     From our initial work engagement in a private corporation, we moved to the government and it was in our stint in that particular agency that we were able to have the opportunity to participate in some of the meetings of the then newly organized Regional Development Council (RDC) in Southern Mindanao where at times we were tasked by our regional head to represent the office.

     It was during those monthly, sometimes quarterly, meetings that the construction of a bridge to connect the now Island Garden City of Samal with the mainland was brought out in the open and eventually included in the discussion and project proposals submitted to the national government for consideration.

     During that time the region was known to have a very influential connection to Malacanang in the person of late Don Antonio Floirendo,  a leading businessman and political kingmaker. It was in our observation that every well-meaning leader in southern Mindanao was optimistic that the then nebulous aspiration will evolve into realization with the known connection exercising substantial influence to the President, the late Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, Sr.

     The much anticipated bridge project however, was overtaken by events when the Marcos, Sr. government was forced out of power in 1986 and the elder Marcos was “shanghaied” out of the country.

     Of course with the new administration that took over the reins of government claiming to have inherited a bankrupt national treasury, the bridge project, while apparently not totally forgotten, was temporarily shelved in the sanctum of the cabinets hiding worthy ideas converted into voluminous documents for possible later references.

     At the height of the push for the East ASEAN Growth Area (EAGA) co-prosperity endeavor during the administration of the late President Fidel V. Ramos where Davao was the focus of major activities related to the convergence effort for a balance regional economy, the talks about the bridge were again starting to have a much louder decibel.

     Still the project did not materialize even during the ten-year incumbency of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who succeeded the short-term Estrada administration when a good number of Davaoenos were walking with the lady President in the corridors of power.

     The Samal-Davao Bridge project plan persisted during the term of the late President Benigno Simeon Aquino III. But again, it remained in the drawing board hardly discussed seriously. And records at the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Region XI will surely show that it was.

     The Davaoenos’ optimism however, that the connector project will come to full realization shot to its highest when in 2016 the first Mindanaon President in former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was elected to office.

     The RDC could not have found any more vacant space with which to place its elation of the very strong possibility that finally its long nurtured recommendation will come to full fruition. Of course in the early months of the Duterte administration there seemed to have a myriad of preparatory activities like search for funding source, revisiting feasibility studies earlier conducted on the proposed bridge, etc., etc., etc.

     Then there were discussions on how the project could be implemented at a lesser cost and less hustle in acquiring of right-of-ways.  It even came to the point of proposing the location of the mainland approach of the bridge in Panabo City, a proposal which to some was seen to benefit certain political families.

     In later political tug-of-war however, the project’s feasibility study that recommended the transfer of the Davao mainland approach somewhere in Lanang closed to a property known to also belong to another politically influential clan, was adopted by the government as its final implementing basis. Unfortunately, for the treasury, it made the project several billion pesos costly that the ones submitted earlier by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) which was earlier commissioned to do the study.

     Added to the misfortune is the alleged absence of a more transparent and exhaustive consultations with the various stakeholders in the areas affected more specifically in the Samal side. And it is apparent that those who stand to be very adversely affected are people known to be simple businessmen and landowners devoid of political clout to the powers that be and are just doing their share in earning for themselves and helping a number of Samal residents earn a living of their own.

     In fact, if we have to go by their narratives both by mouth and documents, these affected families in Samal are deprived of their opportunities to present their side and if they are given such, their call are seemingly ignored. Yet, one family even offered to donate another of their valued property to relocate the Samal side of the bridge approach. The donation offer, we are told, is still not responded for reason unknown.

     Now another administration has set in and it is likely that another uncertain rounds of negotiations by the affected stakeholders will have to be done in the hope of arriving at a “win-win” solution to the impasse.

     Meanwhile, in all those years that the Davao Region was dreaming of a bridge project that would have brought closer the island neighbor to the Davao mainland, the Province of Cebu and its similarly-situated Mactan Island  are already connected with three bridges. A fourth one is in the offing. In fact in Mindanao, the Province of Misamis Occidental and Lanao del Norte are already well on their way to be spanned with a much longer bridge than what is desired of the Samal-Davao City connector project.

     How come that they seem to be more united and capable of giving and taking for the benefit of everybody? What is wrong with us and our leaders in this part of the Davao region?

     Based on what we have learned from the saga of the bridge project we somewhat feel that the final plan of the project implementation seems to betray the government’s arbitrariness in arriving at its decision on the selection of the bridge alignment.

     In fact the government decision makers have somehow forgotten the mandate of insuring environment protection in the consideration of project locations. They have also forgotten that sustainability of a project does not refer only to the project per se but to all the stakeholders it intends to benefit.

     So, will our generation ever see the Samal-Davao connector bridge done in our lifetime? We could hardly tell and we are even suspicious that it will not happen at all.



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