ONE of the most anticipated big-ticket infrastructure projects of the government in Southern Mindanao is the decades-long talked about Samal Island-Davao Connector Bridge.

    The project which we first heard about in the mid 70’s when we were in our first years in Davao City was strongly hyped to finally come to reality during the past six years when a Davaoeno President in former City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was in Malacanang. In fact the region was actually agog with talks that after several feasibility studies the government finally agreed to the one which was conducted by a Hong Kong-based Consultancy firm. The acceptance of the study was done despite a substantial upward adjustment in the cost of the project and the transfer of the bridge’s location from where it was recommended in an earlier feasibility study conducted and funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)

     In fact the new route pushed by the feasibility study not only bloated the budget of the project, it also stirred a disturbed hornet’s nest kind of protests from some well-meaning stakeholders and those strongly advocating for the preservation of the environment more specifically the marine habitat.

     However, these protests from several sectors are far from being intended to disparage the project. All the stakeholders concerned are one in saying that the bridge will definitely facilitate the development of the Island Garden City of Samal both structurally and economically. The stakeholders’ abhorrence is actually directed more on the bridge route or alignment which to their opinion will not only deprive majority of the stakeholders and a good number of Samalenos their opportunity to eke out a living.

     Other than this, we learned that there is one attribute that Samal is likely to lose if the proposed route will eventually be taken upon the bridge construction. That is, that the island city will eventually lose its status as one of very few remaining places recognized nationally as Mangrove Swamp Forest Reserve making the entire island as a protected area under Proclamation No. 2152, Series of 1981, according to the lawyers of the family-stakeholder who believed they are most affected.

     And indeed, talking of the stakeholders with so much at stake with the bridge construction following the recommended route by the government-approved feasibility study, we can only refer to the Rodriguez-Lucas families. Not only that they own the land where the Samal approach of the bridge is to be located and their major livelihood and the source of income of many Samal residents is the first to be steam-rolled, also the family’s major corporate social engagement and advocacy – protection of the underwater habitat in what they call Paradise Reef – will be derailed.  No, it is not too much to their owned disadvantage but to everyone who feels that they have a responsibility to make this world worth protecting for the generations that will come later.

     Recently, when we had a chance conversation with one of the Rodriguez sibling when we made inquiries for booking procedures in the family-owned resort, we learned that as stakeholders they are very much supportive of the bridge project. What they are trying to convince the government is to re-align the intended route believing that people’s livelihood will be spared and a healthy coral reef will remain ideal for fish and other sea water living organisms to thrive.

     And even as the Rodriguez-Lucas families reiterated their position that they are not against the bridge project they complement their recommendation for the realignment by offering to donate another property of theirs to be the location of the Samal approach which makes the span even shorter, and perhaps less costly. 

     To date, according to the Rodriguez family member, they are not given even the courtesy of a response to their offer of donation.

     Somehow, upon hearing the position of the leading resort operator in that island, we believe that they have the reason to complain considering what they claim to be lapses in the processes adopted.  Yes, were there really no consultations with the local stakeholders as claimed by the affected families? Is it the right procedure for functionaries based in Manila who just depend on what they read in the feasibility study to make a decision as to where the bridge should be located?

     And is it proper for the officials of agencies concerned with the project implementation to just ignore the donation offer simply because they have already fixed their mind on what is recommended in the feasibility study to the detriment of a number of local businesses and residents?

     We could not help but be somewhat sympathetic with the adversely affected stakeholders when they suspect that the government appears to be making itself “off the people, poor the people, and buy the people.”



Source: Mindanao Times (