The missing 800 | Inquirer Opinion
The Long View

The missing 800

Chances are you have heard of the Bataan-Cavite Interlink Bridge, which is described as a cable-stayed bridge with the goal of reducing travel time from Bataan to Cavite from the five hours it currently takes, to 40 minutes when the bridge is done. It was supposed to have been completed by January 2022 at a cost of $3.6 billion. The National Economic Development Authority approved the project in January 2020, construction was supposed to begin in November 2020, you get the picture. As it turns out, as of March this year, the “detailed engineering design of the project … is still ongoing, but it’s now at a substantial 70 percent.” It’s certainly an ambitious project, and has funding support both from the Asian Development Bank and the People’s Republic of China. The project touts it as “A joint venture of the US-based T.Y. Lin International and the Republic of Korea’s Pyunghwa Engineering Consultants, along with the Philippines’ DCCD Engineering Corporation and Switzerland-based Renardet received the contract for the project” and projected to “start at Barangay Alas-asin in Mariveles, Bataan, crossing Manila Bay, and terminating at Barangay Timalan in Naic, Cavite. Furthermore, “The project will involve the construction of two cable-stayed navigation bridges, the North Channel Bridge with a main span of 400 m and the South Channel Bridge with a 900 m main span, standing at a water depth of approximately 50 m.”

Essentially the two long bridges straddle Corregidor, which has been a national shrine since 1954 and features the Pacific War Memorial; indeed, as President Ramon Magsaysay’s proclamation of 1954 or Fr. Pacifico Ortiz SJ’s invocation put it, when the memorial was inaugurated in 1968, the island’s battlefields are considered “hallowed ground.” And yet what should be a central element in the deliberations and planning of this mega project—the question of the appropriateness of Corregidor is a mere island stepping-stone for two bridges—has become peripheral, at best, if not practically nonexistent: Simply calling the island “historic” glosses over the actual status of the place, not to mention the question of the crumbling ruins on the island and how extensive construction, including tunnels, might affect them. In the publicity for the project, there is no discussion of the impact of the project on the island’s protected areas, though what illustrations exist give the impression the two bridges will converge on the tip of the tadpole’s tail (visualizing the island, as most people do, as tadpole-shaped). There will be much more to it than that, of course, and there lies part of the problem.

The Department of Public Works and Highways itself has mentioned that “the geological aspects of the site, surface, and subsurface, have to be studied in detail given the nature of the project before commencement of construction activities for this exciting infrastructure flagship project.” Research vessels were deployed to identify the areas for boreholes for the bridges’ support structures; after all, “planning and development of the project requires adequate knowledge of the geotechnical conditions at site and the application of tools and techniques that are helpful in enhancing efficiency of the geotechnical evaluation study.” From other sources, we know that extensive high-resolution multibeam echo sounder data has been taken by the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority back in 2011, which supposedly identified the location of the wreck of the S.S. Corregidor.


For the older wartime generation, of whom very, very few are now left, the sinking of the S.S. Corregidor was the first major tragedy of World War II in the Philippines. This happened on Dec. 16-17, 1941 (around midnight, hence the event straddling two dates), when the S.S. Corregidor, an interisland steamship of the Compañia Maritima, hit a mine off Corregidor Island and sank, resulting in a tremendous loss of life. There is a very interesting discussion on the disaster, and the question of whether negligence was involved, and if so, who should be assigned blame, in The Loss of the S.S. Corregidor thread of the Corregidor Then and Now Proboards on the internet. Within the thread can be found recollections by George Steiger (an officer in Corregidor), Charles Balaza (serving in an artillery detachment on the island), and others. I myself posted the recollections of a survivor, Assemblyman Jose E. Romero, on my Philippine Diary Project website. In his diary, written at the time, the late Teodoro M. Locsin reported that up to 1,000 individuals might have been on the ship, “packed to the gunwales with passengers leaving the city for the southern islands.” In his own diary, Fr. Juan Labrador OP sadly wrote, “Many had filtered in without paying the fare, or mounted aboard with the idea of paying later on. Only 200 passengers were rescued, and the number of those drowned is estimated at 600 to 800.”


He added that, “Among the passengers were assemblymen, students from the South, and well known families, including the brothers of the Archbishop of Cebu, one of whom was a professor and secretary of the Faculty of Law of the University of Santo Tomas; the other was a member of the Assembly. The assemblyman drowned, but the faculty member of UST was saved after swimming and floating for six hours. Those who were trapped in the cabins—women and children, for the most part—are forever buried in the bosom of the sea. Even among those who were on deck and had time to jump overboard, many were drowned for lack of lifesavers or for their inability to resist the current of the waves.” So aside from Corregidor being a national shrine, a Pacific war memorial for the Philippines and the United States, the site of many smaller memorials and historic structures, its ruins and overgrown features likely still conceal the graves of soldiers from different nations, and the seas around the island, too, contain at least one mass grave.

It will take only a little more effort, and the inclusion of just a few more institutions whether the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, the National Historical Institute, the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office, and others, to do the due diligence to ensure that neither by omission nor commission, will any desecration take place, when the very historic features of Corregidor as “the Rock”—isolated, defiant—is about to be eliminated for good.


Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @mlq3

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