A ‘Paradise Lost’ in the making
A happy marine life ensconced in Paradise Reef, also a natural bulwark against storms and sea-level rise, is under threat from a China-funded bridge project to link Davao city with Samal islands in the southern Philippines.
Billed as a bid to develop the islands,at present reached only by ferry or boat, the four-km (2.5 mile) Samal Island-Davao City (SIDC) connector project, once complete by 2027, would cut the travel time between the places from 50 minutes to five.
What has alarmed the environmental experts and community leaders is the landing point of the bridge near Paradise Reef, sprawling 7,500 square metre (80,729 square feet) and vital to shielding the coastal community from effects of climate change. The bridge will connect the Samal Circumferential Road to the R. Castillo–Daang Maharlika junction in Davao City.
Environmentalists and the Rodriguez family, owners of the Paradise Island Park & Beach Resort located near the reef, have questioned the decision of the Philippine government, its foreign consultant Ove Arup & Partners Hong Kong Ltd and local subcontractor Galerio Environment Consultancy.
“The bridge does not belong to Samal island or to Davao city. This is part of the Republic of the Philippines and Filipino residents,” said John Lacson, a Davao-based marine biologist, throwing his weight behind the Rodriguez family.
A DEAF EAR
The Philippine government chose to turn a deaf ear to the pleas and concerns voiced on the environmental front. It resolved to go ahead with its plans and continuethe bonhomie with its Chinese counterpart, extolling the latter’s espousal of road to modernity and perceived fruits of development.
Betting big on the SIDC, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said that the bridge project would boost the residents’ access to employment and education, among others, and promote tourism.
“This is not the only project that we have depended upon, the concessional loans and even grants from the government of the People’s Republic of China, and it is clear to see the benefits that those projects bring to our people, to our economy, and to the Philippines,” Marcos said. He also waxed eloquent on China for its support and becoming a “dependable partner” in the government’s infrastructure development programme.
In reciprocation, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian felt that the first 100 days of the Marcos administration resonated with the development method of Chinese modernisation. Huang also made a case for Chinese modernisation, which he felt, would definitely have a “profound impact on the world and benefit mankind.”
Noteworthily, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has helped fund a feasibility study by Arup, but the Rodriguez family have alleged that locals were not consulted. In 2019, the landing point of the project, for which the state-owned China Road and Bridge Corp. is the contractor, was changed from the original site, erstwhile a shipyard to the coast of Costa Marina Beach Resort, to the point adjacent to Paradise Resort.
The 2019 Arup feasibility study went against the grain of what was carried out by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) three years earlier when it was set to finance the project. This was prior to the Philippines government’s nod to Chinese loan under the then-Duterte administration’s Build Build Build programme.
Japan had pegged the project cost at PHP 16 billion (USD 278.3 million), but Arup estimated the project cost at PHP 23.4 million (USD 407 million) with 90 per cent to be funded by China. Interestingly, a different landing site for the bridge was proposed by the Japanese that would have been not only cheaper but also had minimal environmental impact.
In defence, the Philippines Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the project’s lead agency, on October 7, 2022, described the final alignment of the project as “product of comprehensive study by experts taking into consideration the environment and the navigational and aeronautical restrictions.” It also highlighted the bridge’s proximity to the Davao City International Airport and ship routes.
The underwater gardens thrown open by coral reefs to the mankind cease to exist merely as feast for eyes. This is due to their unique potential to withstand increasing impacts of climate change by safeguarding ecosystems and acting as seed banks capable of restoring and rejuvenating degraded reefs.
As revealed at COP27 held recently, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has contributed $15 million (€14.9) to the Global Fund for Coral Reefs (GFCR).
With environment concerns taking a back seat, a bitter harvest is clearly in store for the posterity when climate change would, slowly but inevitably, find its expression.Now, with an existential crisis looming large, would Paradise Reef survive the whims of human designs?