Cabaero: Dropped bridge projects

Nini Cabaero

FOUR days ago, a Cebu graduate topped the national board exams for civil engineering, the sector that builds bridges, tunnels and other structures.

Two days ago, or on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, a government engineer said two big-ticket bridge projects linking Cebu to the provinces of Bohol and Negros Oriental were removed from the “Build, Build, Build” list because of engineering problems.

Edgar Tabacon, Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Central Visayas director, explained in a SunStar Cebu report that, until now, the technology needed to build them does not exist because the sea is very deep.” The two bridges were expected to cost P71 billion. Another DPWH 7-initiated project that will most likely be scrapped is the Bohol-Leyte link bridge worth some P72 billion.

While Tabacon cited engineering problems, he mentioned in the same interview the option of making these bridges cable-stayed or suspended with towers and bridge deck held by cables. Since this was the best way to implement the project, why then wasn’t it considered?

It is not true the country lacks or has no qualified, intelligent and resourceful engineers. Not when buildings and other structures continue to rise, and not when schools continue to churn out engineering graduates, some of them in Cebu topping the licensure examinations.

A Manila Times report last month already mentioned one Central Visayas project that was removed from the program. This was the 24.5-kilometer Cebu-Bohol bridge project.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia appeared in a forum where he said certain projects were removed from the “Build, Build, Build” list because these were “impossible” to implement and we have yet to have the technology needed “to build in very deep waters and long bridges.” But, Pernia added, this technology was “available somewhere.”

Pernia was quoted as saying the 18.2-kilometer Luzon (Sorsogon)-Samar project was dropped from the list after it was found to be unfeasible in terms of economic viability and financial costs, while the 23-kilometer Leyte-Surigao long bridge was also found to be very challenging to build and very costly.

When it came to the 24.5-kilometer Cebu-Bohol bridge project, Pernia, in the report, said its construction could not be justified at this time.

What were the reasons behind the dropping of the two big-ticket bridge projects linking Cebu to the provinces of Bohol and Negros Oriental? It cannot be lack of knowledge because Filipino engineers are capable of doing those projects. The technology is “available somewhere,” as Pernia said, and it can be adopted as needed. Filipino engineers can be resourceful and can find the technology that is needed.

The reasons, really, boil down to political will. The lack of it to proceed with those projects that would have benefited millions of Central Visayas residents.

The region’s leaders and the Regional Development Council should demand a clearer explanation from the national agencies and push for re-inclusion of these projects.