“It is not good to cross the bridge before you get to it.”
By Alex P. Vidal
NEW YORK CITY — It’s a white lie.
I have serious misgivings on reports that Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Mark Villar had “confirmed” to Mayor Eugene Reyes of Buenavista, Guimaras that the construction of the much-ballyhooed Panay-Guimaras-Negros or Western Visayas bridge “will start under the Duterte administration.”
If Villar did say this, then he is phony.
Politician Villar only probably wanted to take fellow politician Reyes for a ride.
Without a latest feasibility study, how can a project begin?
Can a cart move ahead of the horse?
To add confusion, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA-6) Regional Director Ro-Ann Bacal reportedly said that the construction of the inter-island bridge “is among the priority projects of the DPWH.”
The proposed Panay-Guimaras-Negros bridge is not among the priority projects of the DPWH this year, madame director.
Therefore, there can be no construction in the radar this year and in 2018.
It’s actually back to dreamland.
When Villar lobbied for DPWH’s P458.61-billion budget for 2017 before the House Committee on Appropriations in August 2016, the Western Visayas bridge was not among those listed in the country’s “most ambitious infrastructure program” Villar enumerated that would benefit from the expanded budget (the amount is P61 billion higher than last year’s P397.108 budget.).
DPWH’s priority projects are the following: Taal Lake Circumferential Road, San Nicolas-Sta Teresita, Alitagtag, Batangas; Gurel-Bukod-Kabayan-Buguias Road (leading to Mt Pulag, Bulalacao Lakes, Kabayan Mummies), Bokod, Kabayan and Buguias, Benguet; Cagaray Circumferential Road, Bacacay, Albay leading to Misibis Resort and white beaches in Albay; Tatay-El Nido Road, Palawan; Jct (Tagbilaran East Road, TER) Guindulman-Anda-Badiang Cogtong -Road leading to beaches and resorts, Anda, Bohol; Borongan, Llorente Closed Canopy Forest Area, Maydolong, Eastern Samar; and Island Garden City of Samal Circumferential Road, Davao del Norte.
NAIA Expressway; Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway; NLEX Harbor Link, Segment 10; Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3; Plaridel By-Pass Road, Phase II; NLEX Harbor Link, Segment 8.2; Central Luzon Link Expressway – PHase I (Tarlac-Cabanatuan); Cavite-Laguna Expressway; SLEX TR4, Sto Tomas-Lucena; C6 – Phase I, Southeast Metro Manila Expressway; and NLEX-SLEX Connector Road.
Candon City By-Pass Road, Ilocos Sur; Laoag City By-Pass Road, Ilocos Norte; Plaridel By-Pass Road, Phase II; Carcar By-Pass Road, Carcar City, Cebu; Palo West By-Pass Road, Palo, Leyte; Tacloban City By-Pass Road, Leyte; Cotabato City East Diversion Road; Alae By-Pass Road; and Davao City By-Pass Construction Project, Mindanao.
There’s no Panay-Guimaras-Negros bridge project on the list, which would have eaten up an estimated 30 percent of the DPWH national budget.
Villar did mention, however, that his department was “studying the feasibility of proposed P21.67 billion Panay-Guimaras-Negros Island Bridge Project.”
The inter-island bridge project, conceptualized way back during the term of President Fidel V. Ramos, doesn’t have a detailed budget yet despite the spirited lobbying of the Regional Development Council (RDC) and almost all congressmen and women.
There’s also a misconception that China, which maintains a shaky relationship with the Philippines owing to its repeated intrusion in the Panatag Shoal, will fund the project that could cost up to an estimated P65 billion.
What Chinese Vice Minister Fu Ziying of the Ministry of Commerce and Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez had agreed, and which was covered by a memorandum of agreement (MOA) in their March 18, 2017 meeting, was for the Chinese government to help fund the feasibility studies of at least two of the nine Philippine projects China had pledged to support.
A feasibility study does not commence the construction of any project.
Last year during the Aquino administration, the government had also sought the help of South Korea to fund the project’s feasibility study, as revealed by Senator Franklin Drilon, to no avail.
Experts, meanwhile, have cautioned the Philippine government of the scale of risks in the provisions of megaprojects like the 23.19-kilometer-long Western Visayas bridge.
Nicanor R. Roxas, Jr., who drafted the Cost Overruns and the Proposed Panay-Guimaras-Negros Inter-Island Bridge Project, confirmed that the Western Visayas bridge project has been studied by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and DPWH with varying projected costs and designs.
The costs reportedly range from P53 billion in 1999, P28.5 billion in 2010, and P54 billion in 2011.
“This just reflects the uncertainties in cost estimation for this kind of project. Different designs and alignments have different associated costs, but even if everything has been finalized, there is still no guarantee that costs will not change. Unforeseen problems will be encountered along the way, and together with these problems are unpredicted cost adjustments that pile up resulting in large cost overruns,” Roxas warned.
He added: “The Philippines does not have any experience in constructing a project of such magnitude. Thus, we have no formula for success, just like most of the other failed projects completed in the past.”
Roxas explained that “it is easier to enumerate projects that failed than projects which have succeeded. Therefore, it does not look promising and all the more the need to look into the experience of others in megaproject construction. It is clear that the effects of megaproject provision are extensive. If the megaproject construction fails, which is highly probable, other sectors are getting adversely affected.”
Roxas, a master of engineering specializing in Transportation Engineering from Chulalongkorn University, Thailand and member of the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP) and the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers (PICE), further warned that “it does not look promising and all the more the need to look into the experience of others in megaproject construction.”