Precautionary approach on Davao-Samal bridge

“It would be ideal if the conflicting claims and findings of these groups were harmonized before the project pushes through, but boring activities have already started”

October 27 saw the groundbreaking for the Samal Island-Davao City (SIDC) Connector project, which would link by bridge the city of Davao to the neighboring Island Garden City of Samal (IGaCoS).

Transportation between the two cities has always been by barges which ferry cars, buses, and pedestrians across Pakiputan Strait.

The bridge, which will be completed in five years by 2027, would cut travel time down from 50 minutes to four and a half minutes. The project is the last of the Duterte administration’s “Build Build Build” projects.

Prior to the groundbreaking and even more now, environmentalists from Davao have been voicing their concerns over the approved placement of the SIDC.

Of all possible options, they question the approved plan as the alignment of the four-lane bridge project would pass through the Samal Island Protected Landscape and Seascape.

The Save Samal Reefs Alliance (SSRA), a group organized to express their concerns over the environmental costs of the project to Paradise Reef and other marine protected areas on the Davao side, has been actively conducting their own studies and organizing awareness campaigns about these alignment concerns.

According to the SSRA, the approved alignment would destroy or at the very least significantly impact Paradise Reef, a 300-meter contiguous reef along the IGaCos side of the project.

The reef is situated near the Costa Marina Beach Resort and the Paradise Island Park & Beach Resort.

It should be emphasized that the bridge itself is welcomed as a needed development for the area, but what is being raised are concerns regarding the balancing of environmental costs, financial considerations, and social benefits of the proposed alignment.

The alignment passes through the Southern Corridor of the Pakiputan Strait with the Davao landing point within Barangay Hizon at the R-Castillo-Daang Maharlika junction and the Samal landing point is within Barangay Limao.

The landing point is near two popular tourist resorts as it would be on the coast of Costa Marina Beach Resort, which is adjacent to Paradise Island Part & Beach Resort.

The resorts are operated by the Rodriguez and Lucas families.

Both have expressed strong opposition to the bridge alignment and question the alleged lack of genuine consultation with the community before the government proceeded with the implementation of the project.

However, in an early October consultation with the National Economic and Development Authority, 43 out of 46 barangay leaders from IGaCoS allegedly gave their full support for the project, citing the economic benefits that the project would bring to the entire island.

The project was issued an ECC by the Department of Environment and Natural Resource-Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB) in December 2020.

The bridge alignment was approved by Davao’s Regional Development Council back in 2019 during the Duterte administration.

According to the ECC, the project’s expected impacts on the marine environment are seagrass loss, disturbance of natural sedimentary and fish habitats, and changes to the strait bed which may affect the movement patterns of marine animals.

However, Davao environmentalists argue that the actual impacts of the project go far beyond what was assessed in the EIA.

Not only would Paradise Reef be affected by the increased siltration due to the boring activities, but the biodiversity of the Davao Gulf area itself may be irreversibly altered.

The Gulf is a key biodiversity area where at least 15 cetacean species have been found, according to a 2018 study by the World Wildlife Fund.

Thus, on top of calling for the realignment of the bridge to stop the direct impact to Paradise Reef, environmentalists are calling for an increase in the project’s allocation for its environmental costs as a whole due to these possible wider impacts on the Gulf’s ecosystem.

Controversy also exists as to whether the bridge project is within a protected area and whether the project on its face is allowable.

The DPWH asserts that the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) has given clearance and expressed support for the project through an October 2020 resolution, but the owners of the two most-affected resorts assert that the environmental clearance certificate (ECC) for the project was issued without PAMB clearance.

Further, they assert that under Proclamation 2152, S. 1981, the entirety of Samal Island is a protected area and a Mangrove Swamp Forest Reserve.

If so, then an act of Congress would be needed to disestablish a protected area or modify its boundary.

It would be ideal if the conflicting claims and findings of these groups were harmonized before the project pushes through, but boring activities have already started.

The impacts of the project on the environment may be minimal if the EIA metrics are to be followed, or they may be significant and irreversible if the scope is widened to consider the ecology of the bay as a whole system.

On this project, the precautionary principle is applicable.

According to the Environmental Rule of Procedure issued by the Supreme Court: “When there is a lack of full scientific certainty in establishing a causal link between human activity and environmental effect, the court shall apply the precautionary principle in resolving the case before it.

“The constitutional right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology shall be given the benefit of the doubt.”

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