“We will burn that bridge when we come to it.”—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
IN April this year, or a month after the Philippines started to absorb the initial blows of COVID-19 pandemic, we wrote that proponents of the Panay-Guimaras-Negros (PGN) Island Bridges Project “should not sacrifice” the P275 billion project under the Duterte administration’s Build, Build, Build program “no matter what happens.”
We invoked the assurance made by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) on January 19, 2020 that the much-ballyhooed project will proceed this year, or tentatively in September 2020.
NEDA had pointed to the Investment Coordination Committee (ICC), which reportedly approved the construction of the P189.53 billion project that will connect the islands of Panay, Guimaras, Negros through the Official Development Assistance (ODA).
Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Mark Villar had assured the project’s feasibility study was already completed in 2019.
The article came after President Digong Duterte hinted in his announcement weeks earlier that the P275 billion emergency funds in the 2020 General Appropriations Act given by congress “might not be enough” if the pandemic will last for two years.
The money went to the Social Amelioration Program (SAP).
The government might sell some of its prime properties, the president had intoned further.
“Let’s hope the funds for the PGN Island Bridges Project won’t be re-channeled for the ‘social amelioration program’ or ‘sacrificed’ to be used in helping the day-to-day sustenance of ‘starving’ poor families while COVID-19 continues to wallop the Filipinos,” read part of the article we wrote on April 13, 2020.
“We are confident the funds for the mammoth project have been secured and the pandemic won’t stand in the way for the much-anticipated start of the construction.”
Ilonggos have been so excited and optimistic about the dream bridges, bruited about to offer a safer, faster, more convenient land travel to residents and tourists of the Western Visayas island provinces, once operational.
Since it has been given a green light by the NEDA, Ilonggos will never accept any excuse once it has been sidelined anew.
Delaying it because of the coronavirus would be inconceivable and unacceptable for the excited people of Iloilo, Guimaras, and Negros.
The biggest infrastructure project-ever under the Duterte administration will reportedly involve the construction of a 32.47-km, four-lane, and two sea-crossing bridges, including the connecting roads and interchanges that will connect the three Western Visayas island provinces.
The colossal land passageway project is expected to provide a safer and faster journey instead of the usual sea travel between the islands.
Also, the bridges will allow easier access and open a network of more convenient transportation linkage that can transform the flow of people, goods and services between the three islands and their respective provinces.
“These are the building blocks of our people’s dreams and aspirations to ease congestion and spread growth throughout the country,” former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said earlier.
The project had been publicized repeatedly to be financed by China’s official development assistance (ODA) loan.
It appears now there’s nothing to “sacrifice”, in the first place, just in case the coronavirus will linger and our economy will suffer a tailspin if Senator Frank Drilon is to be believed.
The Iloilo senator lamented in a recent statement: “Nadulaan na gana ang China because of the pandemic siguro. So subong nagapangita ang gobyerno nga makahulam sa iba nga sources kay indi na magsige ang China nga magfund.”
Let’s hope this isn’t true.
For the meantime, let’s continue to wait and see.
The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo