A bridge too far in N. Samar, no more?
Now nearing retirement, Dr. Narding C. Gorgonia, a medical practitioner in Quezon City, wishes to visit more often his old, beloved hometown in Northern Samar.
Oscar Duarte, an engineer who worked in Guam after graduating from college, has settled with his family in Catarman, the capital town of Northern Samar, but still longing to make regular visits, at least once a month, to the town of his youth—to frolick with his family at the marvelous Talolora Beach; or to take in the sights of the amazing rock formations along the Palapag-Mapanas highway at the edge of province’s Pacific coast; or to cool off in Sangay Waterfalls’ bucolic setting and crystal-clear waters.
Mercy Ann Gorembalem Orio, a 22-year-old civil engineering student, would rather commute between her hometown and her school, the University of Eastern Philippines in Catarman, every day, if she could—not just on weekends.
Unfortunately for all three and many countless others, this is not an easy option today. Their hometown Palapag in Northern Samar is not linked directly by road to Catarman.
“It is rather ironic that while the northeastern Pacific towns of Lapinig, Gamay, Mapanas and Palapag [all of Northern Samar] are now linked to Eastern Samar and its capital, Borongan City, they are not directly linked to Catarman,” rues Fr. Bartolome N. Bacsal, a Roman Catholic priest from the Diocese of Catarman.
The four Northern Samar towns are accessible by road from Eastern Samar, thanks to the Samar Road Rehabilitation Project, one of the government’s major infrastructure projects in Samar Island. It stretches 222.23 kilometers, including the rehabilitation and construction of 61 bridges.
In late October, President Aquino was in Arteche, the last Eastern Samar town bordering Northern Samar, to assess the project. While he was there, a statue of his late mother, former president Corazon C. Aquino, was unveiled in nearby Mapanas. The residents of Mapanas and of its three northeastern Pacific neighbors had hoped the President would proceed to the town to preside over the unveiling. He didn’t. Had he, he would have been swarmed with queries about the unfinished “Simora project.”
The project, as proposed, involves a road and a bridge. The bridge, which would be built across Catubic River, would serve as an alternate route to the Mapanas-Palapag-Laoang Road and directly connect the Palapag-Mapanas Road to the Catubig-Catarman highway. It would thus allow inhabitants of Lapinig, Gamay, Mapanas and Palapag easy and direct access to Catarman, even to Manila, by land.
However, politicians from Laoang oppose the construction of Simora bridge because they foresee that the new route will effectively “bypass and isolate” their island town, thus affecting its standing as the business center in that part of Northern Samar. So, they insisted on the Mapanas-Palapag-Laoang Road project which requires two bridges: one across the narrow channel between Pangpang, a barangay of Palapag, and Calomotan on Laoang island; the other spanning the channel between Laoang poblacion and one of its barangays, Rawis, where buses going to and from Manila and other transport vehicles are normally stationed.
The Laoang bridges were included in the JBIC (Japan Bank International Cooperation)-assisted Urgent Bridges Construction Project for Rural Development. JBIC studies in 2000 placed the cost of the bridges at P257.33 million. But when the bridges’ detailed design was presented in 2004, the cost estimate ballooned to P540 million. JBIC and the National Economic Development Authority thus disapproved the proposed bridges and recommended Simora bridge as replacement.
In spite of, or perhaps due to the disapproval, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Northern Samar endorsed on Jan. 7, 2005, the construction of the two Laoang bridges. Then president Gloria Arroyo and her public works secretary were furnished copies of the resolution of endorsement.
Not to be outdone, that very same month, the Sangguniang Bayan of Palapag and the barangay council of Tangbo, Catubig, passed their respective resolutions supporting the construction of the Simora bridge, citing the economic benefits the project would bring to their constituents.
On Aug. 30, 2006, then Laoang mayor Hector Ong requested the public works secretary to put the Simora bridge project on hold.
It has since been an on-and-off affair for the Simora project. Sometime in 2008 or 2009, reports circulated that the construction of Simora bridge had been made part of the President’s Bridge Project of the Arroyo administration. But its construction never took place, reportedly because funds earmarked for the project were “realigned.”
In 2011, there were reports that South Korea’s Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF) was about to approve a loan to finance the construction of Simora bridge. Apparently, the project’s previous proponent, JBIC, had backed out.
On March 26, 2012, the Neda announced the approval of three road-bridge projects to be financed with P4.3-billion loan. One of the projects, the Samar Pacific Coastal Road Project, involves the construction of Simora road and bridge. According to the latest report, its construction, to be financed with a loan from EDCF, will start next year, probably after the elections.
The people of Palapag, one of the oldest towns in the whole island of Samar, look forward to the completion of the Simora road and bridge project, certain that it will afford them easy and convenient travel by land, and boost their town’s commerce and economy. And they’re hoping politicians will not block the implementation of the project this time.
Lucio D. Gempis is a freelance writer.
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