The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) announced this week it is suspending work on a major infrastructure project, a bridge that will link Coron to its nearby island town of Culion in the Calamianes, because of environmental concerns raised against it. DPWH officials went on record admitting they had not secured the requisite permits for an access road leading to the site of the footbridge in Barangay Bintuan.

The DPWH official who announced the department’s decision did not provide a complete information about how the project even became controversial, i.e. that there was no evaluation by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) required for such a major undertaking with a funding outlay of P4.2 billion, that there was no Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) permit from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) or a Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) clearance from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD).

The explanation offered by DPWH officials during an online forum organized by the international non profit Oceana was that they had a P250 million budget for road works under their 2019 fiscal year budget appropriated by Congress, specifically itemized under their Local Infrastructure Project portfolio, and that the funds had already been downloaded to them by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

They admitted that there was no ECC for the construction of an access road through Barangay Bintuan that will go through a mountain and the construction of the foot bridge that will impact on the marine environment in the area. More significantly, there was no project feasibility study undertaken by NEDA that justifies the entire P4.2 billion project itself from a financial and development sustainability standpoint.

This project would have gone ahead if not for a petition organized by locals who complained about its potential impact on Coron Bay’s environment. The group Save Lusong Gardens and Shipwrecks Campaign launched an online petition that was immediately heeded, to its credit, by the DPWH.

There is evidently more to this narrative than what meets the eye, a story that is unlikely to be unearthed by relevant authorities such that lessons can be properly learned and similar mistakes may no longer happen in the future. What the DPWH had promised is they will henceforth go through the proper procedures in pushing through with the project, first by completing an internal feasibility study including plans for mitigating environmental impacts and getting the NEDA to sign in.

Unfortunately for its proponents, the Coron-Culion bridge idea is a tough sell without its proponents clearing its narrative and starting anew from a clean slate. This project is already tainted and its social acceptability at this point is way low. Convincing local stakeholders specially the groups that are raising valid concerns about the project will be a tall order even for the DPWH that is owning all the blame.

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