A map showing the affected areas, which include a marine protected area (MPA) and an ancestral domain (highlighted in bright green with purple border). Red stars show popular SCUBA dive sites. // Courtesy of Fr. Roderick Caabay

An online petition protesting the construction of an inter-island bridge in Coron and Culion towns has gathered some 10,000 signatures. The campaign organizers are hoping that the national government will suspend the project and conduct consultations with local stakeholders.

The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) said the project has not been issued an Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) clearance. The PCSD District Management Office (DMO) has asked the DPWH to explain the groundbreaking for the project that was done in the first week of March despite having no SEP clearance.

Oppositors to the 5km-long bridge, which is a proposed project by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), warned the project destroy important underwater attractions and dive spots such as shipwrecks and coral reefs found between Coron and Culion. According to the petitioners, road clearing has begun in some areas and people are being barred from passing by the area.

In an interview with Palawan News on Wednesday, Danica Lopez Williams, one of the organizers for the Save Lusong Gardens and Shipwrecks petition on Change.org, said they are optimistic their campaign will be supported by local officials and agencies.

“We are happy with the support of course. But we are hoping for more signatures to really compel Secretary [Mark] Villar and DPWH to listen to the voice of the people. A lot of people thought wala nang pwedeng magawa kasi national project yan at DPWH yan. But I really believe the law is on our side, and a good number of local government officials and agencies are with us on this,” she said in a text message.

According to a press kit made available to Palawan News on Tuesday, the proposed construction was not consulted with local stakeholders involved, who are mainly indigenous peoples living in Marily Island and tourism workers. It stated that six SCUBA diving spots, mostly shipwrecks, will be affected by construction activities because they are located close to the bridge’s proposed site.

The project also did not secure a SEP clearance with the PCSD, which is a crucial step to big construction projects in Palawan, according to PCSD staff spokesperson Jovic Fabello.

“Wala talagang SEP ‘yan. Sumulat na rin naman ang DMO namin sa DPWH, nag-request na rin kami ng mga relevant documents regarding the project. Kailangan kas malaman kung may matatamaan pa na ECAN (Environmentally Critical Areas Network) zoning ang construction,” he said.

On March 31, around 100 members of the Tagbanua group in Marily Island held a rally to protest the bridge’s construction, especially bridge will be cutting into mountains of their ancestral land. The group also wrote a letter addressed to the DPWH stating that they were not properly consulted or informed, and that the bridge could potentially damage their sources of livelihood, which include fishing and root crop-growing.

Petitioners are also urging DPWH and its secretary Mark Villar to do an impact assessment first before more construction is made. They are also calling for proper consultation with involved stakeholders to come up with a more sustainable solution.

“We won’t stop gathering more and more support, and more and more signatures until the construction is stopped and machinery is removed, until due process is followed, until they consult with us their plans that include livelihood and environmental protection. Puwede naman silang umatras. Puwede silang mag re-route. Pwede mag re-align ng budget. Pero hindi nila pwedeng i-shortcut ang batas tapos ang taumbayan ng Coron at Culion ang mananagot at maghihirap,” Williams added.