The rationale for the ongoing expansion of Palawan’s main highway into six lanes, a project estimated to cost around P30 billion if completed, has been explained in several pronouncements of provincial officials and the Department of Public Works and Highways. Its goal, ostensibly, is to spur economic growth in the province.
The provincial government, which has been pushing for it, has stated in various media pronouncements that the road project is an integral part of the government’s efforts to open up the province to major markets including the BIMP-EAGA trade region.
The plan includes the construction of roll-on-roll of ports in three strategic areas of the province – Buliluyan in the southern tip of the mainland, the northern tip of El Nido and Coron in the cluster island group of the Calamianes. The ports are supposed to facilitate the entry and exit of goods and encourage cross-border trade with other neighboring countries in the ASEAN. The 6-lane highway is supposed to make the flow of goods through the province smooth and easy. The roro ports are also intended to connect the province’s northern and southern tips by sea.
The concept, to be sure, conforms with an overarching goal outlined in the country’s medium-term development goals, which calls for heavy government spending on infrastructure. The present administration calls it the dawn of a “golden age of infrastructure” as its way of underscoring a core strategy in pump-priming economic growth and improving the lives of the people.
Yet, for an infrastructure project of this magnitude – an estimated total project cost of P30 billion, there has been little information available on the specifics and the project. The DPWH has so far only told media they have a P3 billion funding for the current year to do the six-lane expansion in portions of the mainland. It does seem that the expansion project will be funded in annual tranches depending on how much Congress will be appropriating for it each year. If the current year’s funding is a benchmark, it will take the national government 10 years to complete the road widening project.
The actual road expansion work has faced numerous controversies already. For starters, it does not have an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) or a tree cutting permit for the tree stands that will be cut alow the way. There is no estimate on how many trees will be affected by the widening, an information that can only be culled if someone has done an environmental impact study on the project.
Recently, the municipal government of Narra complained that the DPWH destroyed the old trees they had planted along their national road without seeking coordination with them. In Brooke’s Point, the municipality is accusing the contractor undertaking the project of violating local ordinances.
The broad strokes of this so-called superhighway project have not been enough to quite some sectors that have been questioning it from the start. Civil society groups have questioned its identification as a priority for the local government. They have also challenged its economic viability and its impact on the environment.
Such concerns, however, seem to have fallen on deaf ears, as there is no oversight role being exercised by appropriate agencies of the local government, primarily the Provincial Board, on this matter.