The Rodriguez family has finally spoken and asserted they are not opposing for the construction of the Samal Island-Davao City (SIDC) Bridge, however, appeals to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and Hong Kong-based consultant Ove Arup and Partners Hong Kong Ltd. for the realignment of bridge’s landing site in the Island Garden City of Samal (IGaCoS) to protect the marine environment that they are preserving for a long time.
“We do not oppose the bridge project but for the choice and for selection of the alignment of the said bridge, we were not informed of this proposed alignment prior to August 2019. Despite our meetings with DPWH and Arup to make our concerns clear only Arup decided that this proposed alignment is final with little regard to the ill effects on the white sand beach, rich sea life, and undersea flora and fauna,” said Atty. Ramon Rodriguez Lucas, corporate secretary of Paradise Beach and Island Resort (PIBR), in a Zoom conference on Thursday.
The family has commissioned scientists Dr. Filipina Sotto, Dr. Cleto Nañola, and Joey Gatus to do a study of the ecosystem and biodiversity around the area of Paradise Reef, an area that will be hit by the bridge. Based on the study, there are three sites (stations) considered feasible for the landing site of the bridge: Lomos (station 1), Bridgeport (station 2), and the Paradise Island Beach Resort (PIBR, station 3).
The study also recommended that in the event station 2, the old shipyard now Bridgeport is not feasible, station 1, which is actually a portion of El Paril Beach Resort known now as Lomos beach, is offered for donation by the Rodriguez family, owners of PIBR, to be used as a compromise for the final landing site of the bridge.
Lucas said the donation is their family’s way of supporting the construction of the bridge and not to delay it.
“We recommend the landing sites and why not even consider that? Why would Arup not want that? Until now we don’t know why. They always tell us ‘we are looking at so many criteria and environment is just one of the factors’. I mean you cannot make environment as one of the factors it is the main factor because you can build the bridge in four or five years but you cannot rebuild a coral reef even in 100 years,” Lucas said.
Lucas added that by simply realigning it a kilometer away from the Paradise Reef would not have same environmental catastrophe.
“Why wouldn’t you consider that? Is there any political reason why you have chosen this and not that? Unsa ba gyud? I think the public can demand those answers from DPWH and Arup. They (DPWH, Arup) maintain until recently, that their study indicated the damage will be minimal and easily be mitigated. We were disappointed as our concerns are not properly addressed. As a result our family was compelled to seek the help of a marine and environmental scientists to make a comprehensive study on the impact and to enable us to make an informed decision and assessed the situation and not based on speculations,” Lucas said.
The study entitled Biophysical Assessment on the Affected Reefs of the Proposed SIDC connector Bridge off the North-Western part of the Island Garden City of Samal (IGaCoS) provides comprehensive information on the status of the marine resources in the said three assessed stations to recommend to the DPWH, DENR, and LGUs the best option for the proposed SIDC connector landing site with paramount consideration on environmental impact. It also concluded that in constructing the bridge’s landing site where the main bridge and its approach viaduct will be constructed must be given utmost consideration as it is inevitable that during construction of the bridge, the benthic communities will be irreversibly and irreparably destroyed.
“All the family’s want is to protect and preserve Paradise Reef for the sake of public interest and the common good for the present and future generation of Samaleños, Dabawenyos and for humanity itself. They are doing it against all odds, against powerful vested political interests, and even personal attacks against their family,” said Atty. Julito “Sarge” Sarmiento, CEO and Founder, Enya, Climate Change Adaptation Resettlement Earth (CARE).
Based on these scientific findings and comparing them with both the Arup 2019 and JICA 2016 studies, Dr. Sotto’s team concluded that station 3’s Paradise Reef is home to rich marine life and corals preserved by the Rodriguez family as a de facto marine life sanctuary for almost 100 years.
No Writ of Kalikasan filed
Sarmiento affirmed the Rodriguez family has not filed any legal case not even a Writ of Kalikasan despite all the pronouncements of DPWH and Arup that the landing site proposal is final.
“The family has reached out to DPWH and Arup. It reached 13 months of lobbying to DPWH and Arup. It reached 13 months of lobbying to DPWH and Arup that we now come and partner with the media for the truth, facts, and the science to come out. For the family, the Writ of Kalikasan will delay substantially the construction of the bridge, but they don’t want to delay it,” he said.
According to him, the family was appealing to DPWH and Arup even before they made the final design and the detail for them to consider the second best alignment in their own Feasibility Study and make their own environmental study of that second best alignment.
“Despite this persistent effort to talk with DPWH, to engage them and let them know the truth and get the public support, through all fora. And yet the DPWH would really not do its part in terms of realigning the bridge.
And they are themselves asking for the delay of the bridge and no matter how difficult it is for the family that there will be a delay because a Writ of Kalikasan will certainly delay it, if there is no other option, the last resort of the family is to file a Writ of Kalikasan that would delay substantially the construction of the bridge, which the family of course does not want to happen,” he said.
Short documentary film
A short documentary titled “Alang KaNemo” was also launched during the Zoom conference. It follows a group of marine biologists and environmental advocates as they conduct an environmental assessment of the potential landing sites of the Samal Island – Davao City Connector Bridge, primarily on the side of Samal Island. Their report aims to provide a scientific basis for recommending the best location for the bridge, a recommendation that goes against the findings of a multi-million dollar consultant.
“The campaign will compel for the realignment of the bridge from Paradise Reef,” Sarmiento said.
A geo investigation survey in the Davao City side for the construction of the Davao-Samal connector project by Arup is ongoing.
Lucas said they already received notice from the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Manila about the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) application hearing of the Arup on September 28, 2020.
“There will be a hearing and all the issues of the environment including the pre-construction services should be threshed out,” Lucas said.
Sarmiento said the DPWH and Arup and local contractor have been trying to ask permission to enter the property for geo technical services and survey but the Rodriguez family has been asking questions as the family is concern about the impact on the environment.
“We are waiting for the reply of DPWH and Arup with respect to the impact on that and what are the compliances that they have done environmentally to allow them to conduct these kinds of services especially within the family’s property and outside,” Sarmiento said.