MANILA, JULY 18, 2012 (PHILSTARweek) Ifugao Province Gov. Eugene Balitang vividly recalls the harrowing experience his people underwent last year when typhoon “Pedring” slammed into Luzon and destroyed scores of roads and bridges, including their own 51-year-old Burnay Bridge. Authorities said “Pedring” killed over 45 people and devastated agricultural lands and infrastructure worth at least P4 billion in Luzon.

“Bridges are the main artery connecting Ifugao Province to the lowlands. If they go, we are cut off. During typhoon ‘Pedring,’ the Burnay Bridge collapsed. For several days, areas in the province had no electricity and repair trucks could not cross the Banao river because the bridge was down,” Balitang says.

The Burnay Bridge was a concrete double-lane structure built in the 1960s, and was a major linkage spanning the Banao river and connecting Ifugao Province to the lowlands of Nueva Vizcaya and Isabela.

“Immediately after its collapse, on October 5, 2011, Secretary Rogelio Singson, ordered the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) to es- tablish an emergency bridge within 10 days. The bridge was opened to vehicular traffic and pedes- trians on October 12, 2011,” the governor says.

Working intensively, the detour bridge was com- pleted in only eight days. The DPWH, through the President’s Bridge Program (PBP) office, supplied technical assistance and materials from British sup- plier Mabey & Johnson – one “Compact 200” single lane steel superstructure 52 lineal meters long for the emergency detour bridge, and one Delta type double lane superstructure roughly 54 lineal meters long for the reconstruction of the Burnay Bridge and DPWH office in the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR) – undertook the design and con- struction of the substructure and the launching of the superstructures.

“I have to give credit to the fast response of DPWH. They provided everything, from materials, to technical assistance. The emergency bridge was done with the essence of timeliness,” he says.

Singson’s men worked on the emergency bridge round-the-clock despite inclement weather, prompting Balitang to comment that “the DPWH acted like the (Philippine) Marines.”

“We were expecting to be isolated for a longer peri- od. In fact, panic buying of basic goods like rice, LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) and candles was already starting and prices were going up. It turns out that the Capital of Lagawe, including Hingyon, Hungduan, and Banaue and Mayoyao, sites of the rice terraces, was isolated for only nine days,” he says.

Balitang’s story is just one of countless all over the country on how bridges saved lives and brought education, health, peace and growth to far-flung communities. His call for more bridges is just one of thousands from local officials, religious leaders, businessmen, farmers, ordinary people, including young school children, who have to ride bancas for several kilometers in dangerous rivers or cross on “hanging” bridges just to get to attend classes. The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) in 1986 estimated in its Medium Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP) that the country needs, at the very least, 15,000 bridges or an equivalent total of 200,000 lineal meters. This is as- suming that old and existing bridges have not been rendered useless or destroyed by earthquakes and powerful typhoons that hit the country every year es-

timated to be at 10,000 lineal meters annually. Fully aware of the need to physically connect the country’s over 7,000 islands, the government in 1994 started the urgent PBP or the “Tulay ng

Pangulo” that continues up to this day. Former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. became the first chairman of the program after he signed the Bilateral Protocol Agreement with British Minister Lady Baroness Chaulker to provide steel bridges under highly concessional financing terms in the rural areas.

The “Tulay ng Pangulo” spanned several ad- ministrations and never had any adverse report from the Commission on Audit. It was even cited in November 2001 by the Government Auditors Confederation as best official development assis- tance (ODA) performer for speeding up transporta- tion, linking islands to ensuring the quicker flow of passenger and commodities to expand trade, tour- ism and hasten agricultural development.

The success of the “Tulay ng Pangulo” has encouraged the Aquinoadministration to conduct studies on continuing the program as its various components, including the ones assisted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and the British and French governments have either proceeded on sched- ule or have been completed before deadline at low cost, thus saving precious taxpayers’ money and al- lowing more work to be done.

The Duke of York, Prince Andrew earlier wrote that the British supply of over one thou- sand five hundred bridges was a sign of the United Kingdom’s commitment for the economic growth of the Philippines.

“(The) bridges symbolize a permanent legacy of the co-operation between our two countries – a legacy that will continue to provide rural infra- structure links necessary for continuous economic and social development throughout the country,” Prince Andrew said in a message from Buckingham Palace.

The program’s achievement echoes the suc- cessful implementation of a high impact infra- structure program under a bilaterally-approved project framework and highly concessional fi- nancing arrangements backed-up by the Export Credit Guarantee Department of Her Majesty’s Government under the 1995 United Kingdom Aid and Trade Provisions and 1996 United Kingdom- Philippine Aid Consultation matching that of the OECD and the World Bank. This opened the door for the Philippines to access European ODA and opened the door for bilateral ties with other countries like France, Austria, Spain, Japan and South Korea, providing concessional financing.

Former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel has also called for more bridges, stating that it is the role of government to provide infra- structure linkages, for “these will spur sustained socio-economic development.”

“Bridges are essential elements to complete farm-to-market roads networks, especially in rural areas,” Pimentel says as he lauded the President’s Bridge Program’s performance but adds that so much more needs to be done.

In line with President Aquino’s stance of “daang matuwid (straight path)”, which is to establish big- ticket infrastructure programs at “right cost, right place, right time,” he suggested that the country seek out foreign donor bridge suppliers using ODA loan packages.

Pimentel says these loans are concessional in na- ture or “soft,” offering much lower interest rates and longer terms compared to suppliers using commercial loans. This assertion is backed by the DPWH, whose figures show one French donor-supplier – Eiffel- Matiere – using a 10-year loan inclusive of a six-year grace period, at 2.5 percent interest, and guaranteed by the French exports credit agency, COFACE.

“This (ODA) is clearly advantageous to the gov- ernment,” says the former Senate President.

Comparatively, commercial loans used by other suppliers generally offer from two to five-year terms, with interest ranging from 3.1 percent to 5.97 percent.

Pimentel emphasized people need to look be- yond the unit costs of infrastructure. “These struc- tures pay for themselves many times over their life span,” he says. “The return on the country’s invest- ment can be measured in providing better lives, better livelihoods, development at the barangay and municipal level, increased productivity and output and tourism, among others.”

Prof. Merlyn Magallona, former Dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law, said ODA is perhaps

the most advantageous form of financing available to developing econo- mies, second only to outright grants or donations.

“These loans usually feature long payment terms and grace periods, and low or concessional interest rates. There is also usually a non-cash grant component in terms of training and capital machinery. That in turn translates into technological and intellectual transfers that can be tapped over time,” Magallona says.

“The most expensive financing for big-ticket in- frastructure projects would entail paying for public projects with private funding, or commercial loans. Short terms and high interest rates would mean that the government would begin servicing the debt, while the project is still being built, meaning to say not earning revenues yet,” he says.

“It is in the interest of the government to evalu- ate durable and long-lived technology, because the capacity for the infrastructure generate revenues and therefore offset the expenses to finance it is linked to this. The longer the infrastructure lasts, the more it can earn over time,” he adds.

He says ODA funding is transparent and strictly monitored not just by one government, but by two – the donor government, and the contracting government.

“Both (governments) keep an eye out for cost and time overruns, and quality control. If incurred these immediately raise red flags. For this reason, I’m not surprised that the French and the UK donor suppliers built their projects on schedule and without cost overruns,” he says.

“I agree that the country needs more bridges. The country lacks infrastructure in general, but it’s my opinion that building a pervasive farm-to-market net- work, of which bridges and roll-on, roll-off ports are a key element, should take precedence. It stands to reason, what good are airports if tourists have a hard time getting to our domestic attractions in the islands? We have so much more to offer than just Boracay, but even we Filipinos don’t know of it because we our- selves can’t get there,” Magallona says.

Emergency bridges program

Last year, when successive earthquakes hit the country, including the 6.9 magnitude tremor that rocked Negros Oriental and Cebu, two senior law- makers urged the immediate activation of an emer- gency bridges program.

Negros Oriental Rep. Henry Pryde Teves and Benguet Rep. Ronald Cosalan called on the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) to urgently consider the activation of an emergency bridge calamity response unit under the PBP, for implementation and management by the DPWH.

Teves recalled the DPWH used to maintain stock- piles of modular steel bridge components in depots strategically located throughout the country.

“The intention was to be able to react swiftly in times of emergency, to quickly replace damaged or destroyed bridges and restore isolated communities,” the lawmaker said. One of the powerful quakes that hit Visayas de-

stroyed four bridges all made out of concrete. “This shows the inherent need to upgrade old de- signs with better, more modern technology,” Teves earlier said. “When concrete bridges collapse, they cannot be saved. With modular steel technology, elements can be salvaged and used to rebuild bridges.” Even religious leaders are cognizant of the need for bridges in maintaining the welfare of their flock. When Bishop Ramon Villena, D.D. for the Diocese of Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya was the chairman of the Cagayan Regional Development Council, he prioritized infrastructure projects for Region 2, saying these “jumpstart development in other industries, such as agriculture, tourism, and help bring in investments.” Villena has always maintained the major intra-regional bridges and roads that connect to the national highways provide improved routes for goods and services, especially to the rural areas.

“These are the places that need them most,” he said, pointing out that in rural areas, access to basic social services such as education, medical and health facilities, is severely hampered by long routes, simply because no bridges exist.”

“Children walking many kilometers just to get to school, people suffering in silence through the hard- ships of illness... if you limit the taxpayer’s access to social services, by way of commission or omission, that constitutes an injustice in itself,” he says.

Socio-Economic Growth, increased productivity, and tourism

Aklan is characterized by wide coastal low- lands and river systems lancing through rugged terrain, landscape that is typical throughout rural Philippines. Until recently, Madalag, a fourth class hinterland municipality in Aklan was isolated by the mighty Panay river.

Its poverty incidence of 70 percent is much higher than the 33 percent national average. Socio-economic development in Madalag had been limited by access: to reach the town necessitated a Panay River crossing via boat or bamboo raft; or by a circuitous, three-hour route passing three other municipalities.

In May 2012, Aklan Gov. Carlito Marquez inau- gurated the Madalag Bridge, a 200-meter, double- lane, modular steel wonder that links Madalag to Banga, which is just 30 minutes by car from the Aklan capital of Kalibo. Built exclusively from ex- cess components from other bridging projects, the overall cost was very low, Marquez says.

Safety was among the reasons for building the bridge. Given the shortage of bridges, it is not un- common that people in the hinterlands must ford shallow rivers to access social services like public schools, jobs, markets, and hospitals. “There is al- ways a risk associated to this,” the governor says.

He said that before the bridge, three children died crossing the swollen river to get to school. “Many stu- dents from there attend school in Kalibo, because its the only place with a college. Teachers and profession- als who live in Madalag work in Kalibo,” pointed out Marquez. “This bridge is truly a vital link.”

Aside from safe, swift travel, he emphasized the bridge would spur barangay-level development. “Rice is the primary crop of Madalag. About 29 percent of the land is productive with high-value crops,” he says.

“This area is one of the major sources of aba- ca, which contributes to making Aklan one of the world’s largest suppliers of abaca fiber.” Abaca fiber is used for fabric, currency paper and rope, among others.

According to the Department of Agriculture, in 2008, the Philippines supplied 85 percent of the world’s total abaca requirement. The world market price of abaca fiber is steadily increasing. “The bridge is a farm-to-market component head- ing from Madalag to Kalibo,” Marquez says. “With that, farmers will be encouraged to produce more.” He adds that four years ago, abaca cost P20/kg. “Abaca costs P52/kg now. That’s a difference of P32/ kilo. If we produce at least 10 tons daily, the impact on revenue is really significant. Travel will be shortened

by at least 50 percent, increasing farmers’ income.” “With the bridge, investments can head from Kalibo into the interior,” he says. The local government plans to

establish abaca and piña fiber trading posts. “Accessibility results in development. The mo- ment you concrete the roads and build bridges, improvement in lives and livelihoods will follow,” Marquez says.

Access to idle lands

Through the PBP/Tulay ng Pangulo program, the Miputak – Santa Isabel bridge was built to re- place the only means of access, a temporary bam- boo bridge near the sea.

“Before Miputak-Sta. Isabel Bridge became a reality, the bamboo bridge would be washed out anytime. Of course we would spend a lot of money to repair the bamboo bridge immediately just to minimize the negative impact on the lives and jobs of people,” Mayor Evelyn Uy says.

The mayor expresses her deep appreciation to Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson for the PBP and how it has helped her constituents. She adds however that the immediate construction of four more bridges was necessary to connect the baran- gays to nearby municipalities.

“Madali kasi ma-install ang steel bridge at magan- da. Mas matibay itong steel bridge at madaling gawin (The steel bridge is easy to install and quite beauti- ful. It’s stronger and easier to construct.)

Supplied by French firm Matiere in 2008, the bridges are complete solutions that include a steel superstructure, anti-skid decks, pedestrian walk- ways, and the substructure.

“These were erected in just months,” Uy says.

“Noong wala pa ang tulay, palagi kaming binabaha at mawawala lamang ito after two weeks. Hindi maka- galaw ang tao. But with the bridge, hindi na kami nag- kaproblema, malaking tulong talaga. (Before the bridg- es, we would always get flooded, and these would recede only after two weeks. People could not do anything. Now, we don’t have any problems. It’s been a great help),” she says.

“Before the Miputak-Sta. Isabel Bridge, people would transport their goods through habalhabal or single motorcycles, which cost a lot and limited the amount to be transported. “Kung minsan itatawid sa bangka ang mga produkto.” (Sometimes the goods they carried would have to be ferried on small boats.) However, with the existence of the bridge, transporta- tion is much cheaper,” she adds.

Without the bridge, the mayor said, the barangays affected could not have been interconnected, limiting the opportunities for socio-economic growth.

“Ang time of travel madali na. Hindi na kailangan umikot pa. (There’s no need to take the long route.) It saves time and gives tourists greater accessibility to areas that have the potential to become tourist destinations,” she says.

Uy mentions that people used to travel four ki- lometers by foot. With the bridge, the distance has been cut to just one kilometer.

“Barangays like Miputak, Sta. Isabel, Dalas, Central and Sta. Filomena were very much affected prior to the existence of the bridge because floods would not subside for a period of two weeks,” she said.

Economic pump-priming

In Kidapawan City, North Cotabato, the lo- cal government has noted a 10 to 15 percent annual revenue increase following the establishment of bridges in the province through the Tulay ng Pangulo program.

Kidapawan Mayor Rodolfo Gantuangco attri- butes this is to the efficient movement of greater volumes of high-value crops, which the establish- ment of 11 bridges around the city has enabled.

Kidapawan City is the primary trade center for six major municipalities whose main revenues come from bananas, coconuts, palm oil, and rubber. Despite the double–digit revenue growth, Gantuangco is seeking the construction of two more modular steel bridges because official fig- ures show that vast lands suitable for high-value crops remain untapped because they are inacces- sible.

Cotabato has a potential 42,640 hectares (HA) available for planting coconut trees. Of this, only about 54 percent is utilized or about 23,026 HA.

Oil palms are another crop suited to Cotabato, and their primary by-product, palm oil, is another high-value crop. However, of a total area for oil palm plantation of 58,769 HA, less than 10 percent or 5,259 HA has been planted.

Cotabato also has an estimated 105,420 HA available for rubber trees. To date, only 32,067 HA, or about 30 percent has been cultivated. “Access to idle land, coupled with increased demand, will push the cultivation of more high value crops,” Gantuangco says.

Gantuangco indicates the bridges have allowed farm gate trade to take place in bulk, resulting in greater efficiencies. “Trucks and trailers can easily pass [the bridges], allowing for greater trade vol- ume. When there were no bridges, people could only deliver small amounts of rubber, palm oil and bananas to neighboring cities and provinces.”

He adds that before the bridges, delivery of the products was very costly since goods had to be “double handled,” i.e. loaded and off-loaded numerous times. “The lack of bridges also forced people to take a longer route to the market,” he says.

He pointed out that when cargo vehicles were heavily loaded, light bridges and navigable ter- rain shallow rivers would become impassable due to the weight. “What’s worse is that during rains, even alternate routes are not passable,” he adds.

“With the bridges in place, travel time has been cut to less than a half,” he says.

Kidapawan City currently has 11 steel bridg- es, which according to Gantuangco, has given the city government more access to remote areas for local projects. These bridges were supplied by UK’s Mabey & Johnson, under the Special Zone for Peace and Development (SZOPAD) phase of the PBP.

Over the years, Cotabato has gone from being one of the country’s most challenged economies, to one of the most vigorous. As of 2006, Cotabato Province stands 39th among the country’s progres- sive provinces, based on the National Statistics Coordination Board’s (NSCB) measurement of poverty incidence.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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