OPINION: Troubled bridges over water

Buddy Gomez - Cyberbuddy

Posted at Jun 30 2017 09:30 PM

Ben Diokno and Mark Villar, secretaries of Budget and of Public Works and Highways, respectively, propose to upstage Simon and Garfunkel! Remember “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” their 1970s-era song hit?
 
Our 'Dutertenomics' duo want to build “Troubled Bridges Over Water!” In fact, as their February presscon announced, thirteen more bridges over the Pasig! 
 
Of course, this is all part and parcel of the much ballyhooed increase in infrastructure spending and/or investments as a share in the Gross National Product. From something like 5% to something like 7%. The essence of Dutertenomics is to jump start the economy, (very much of which with borrowed Chinese monies at higher rates of interest, mind you) as though the Philippine economy is immovably stalled! A national spending scheme that is also intended to show up the previous administration, prime the pump, stimulate (not as in tickle much less as in tease!) the economy. And create new wealth and enhance employment, all in one stroke of self-adulating ingenuity. Not incidentally, of course, Dutertenomics is also to comply with the campaign promise to conquer Metro Manila’s monstrous malaise!
 
Or, are the government’s dream projects added artifices to augment and expedite foreign funded loans the needs and uses for which have not really been ‘democratically’ validated? Pursuit regardless of whether the projects are sensibly needed and utile? 
A seeming quandary, then? Personally, I find it perplexing because ultimately our children and their children’s children are to bear the burden of repayment. We have experienced this pain before, have we not? Are we then a citizenry of unrepentant masochists?
 
Please do not get me wrong. There is a need for additional bridges over the Pasig. But thirteen? And for that matter, even for sections along the Marikina River. It being the Duterte administration, it is my sincere wish that President Duterte is indeed able to bring about succor to Metro Manila. 
 
The most bridged-over river
 
Please allow me to play weatherman and predict torrential downpour on this parade! I’ll tell you why.
 
We begin by doing the numbers. Between the east and west mouths of Laguna Lake and Manila Bay, Pasig River snakes along a length of 27 kilometers, plus or minus. Now, mark this. Already there are sixteen crossings spanning Pasig River. 13 roadways and 3 railways. Add another 13 and we shall have 29.
 
WOW! Our longest ‘national septic tank’ will become the world’s most bridged-over river, kilometer per kilometer! 
 
That is one bridge for every distance of less than a thousand meters! For short-legged Filipinos, that is most probably 1,500 paces in between bridges!
 
In a sincere desire to augment the country’s infrastructure investments and the challenging commitment to solve Metro Manila’s horrendous vehicular traffic, I am almost certain that this ‘little’ detail did not escape the deliberative considerations of bureaucratic geniuses like Messrs. Diokno and Villar. Do you think the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) may have been likewise involved in this momentous reckoning?
 
I am also almost confident that our duo have thoroughly studied and are therefore fully informed of the sine qua non right of way components to bridge construction. Approaches from both ends, you know. Otherwise, what is the bridge for, in the first place. I speak of the availability and the uncalculated costs of the real estate that will be displaced to make room for those approaches and new roadways. There is some subtle under-the-table rhythm to the process of right-of-way acquisitions, I have been told.
 
With knowledge handed down from experienced and more learned individuals, I have come to appreciate the political practicality that while the State has the power and authority to invoke and implement the government’s right of eminent domain in property acquisitions for public works purposes, local government authorities hardly ever utilize this particular tool of development because it deprives them of the gainful ability to tinker around with pricing and to ‘negotiate’ sharing of potential largesse. Figure that out, folks.
 
An ounce of empathy for property owners
 
It must have been early on during the previous PNoy Aquino administration, when an additional bridge across the Pasig was thought and spoken of. The location was a residential subdivision. If memory serves me right, it was in the backside of the barangay ‘Kapitolyo’ in Pasig. Santa Monica area crossing over to a logical landing across in the vicinity of Bonifacio Global City. Without doubt, this bridge is essential. This project, definitely, does not qualify as ‘ a bridge to nowhere,’ but instead, remains ‘where is the bridge?!’ Wonder no more. 
 
Right-of-way acquisition discussions have not even commenced and yet, reportedly, there was already massive resident resistance to and rejection of the idea that an approach and egress to and from a bridge were to traverse and permanently disturb their neighborhood. Let us grant this impasse an ounce of empathy. Can you blame the property owners for being NIMBYs? (Not in my back yard!)
 
I bet Messrs. Diokno and Villar never thought of how cumbersome implementing their dream would be.
 
Have the real costs, rigors and time element of all bridge construction-related real property acquisitions been factored in? I am afraid that roadway rights-of-way may even be costlier than the bridge building itself!
 
Let us now multiply the above scenario by thirteen sets of locations and adjoining vicinities! 
 
A tantalizingly tortuous magnitude of human folly--those thirteen bridges will be! 
 
Are bridges across Pasig River pragmatic?
 
As a tax-paying, stake-holding citizen, born and bred in Metro Manila, I too have earned the right to question the fiscal sanity of our government. Once more with more feeling, as my friends and readers may have noticed by now, my passion for the decongestion of Metro Manila has compelled me to serially sound out, at the laughable risk of being a broken record!
 
Why 13 bridges and a subway, when viaduct elevated skyways snaking along the Pasig and Marikina rivers, over its banks, are superior and pragmatic solutions to Metro Manila’s infernal vehicular traffic? (Apart from decongestion and population redistribution, of course!)
 
Have Messrs. Diokno and Villar not even considered widening some of the existing bridges, instead of building 13 new ones?
 
Guess Who’s Dreaming
 
Please allow me to end this blog by quoting the Budget secretary. In his February press conference during which he unveiled government’s dream plan ‘to build thirteen more bridges across the Pasig River,’ he referred to the bridges as “iconic” like the ones in the United Kingdom and France! He also said that “the bridges….will have five lanes on both sides.”
 
Let me repeat and render emphasis to that reality-beggaring monumental temerity: “the bridges….will have five lanes on both sides.”
 
The kind Secretary is evidently unconcerned with the fact that if there has never been any bridge across the Pasig River, originally constructed with “five lanes on both sides,” it is simply because there never was any space available for it. That was then. And, in the long meanwhile, God has not created new and additional elbow room. My archangels tell me not to expect any more new space, unless Metro Manila unloads people!
 
“….thirteen more bridges across the Pasig River” each “will have five lanes on both sides.” Where in Heaven’s name, Messrs. Diokno and Villar?
 
Having commenced with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” let me end with ‘the Papas and the Mamas.’ “California Dreamin’.” 
 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.