Conceptual design of the Coron-Culion Inter-island Bridge. | Photo from DPWH Sec. Mark Villar's FB page

A group of local divers and concerned citizens in the province have launched an online petition to prevent the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) from pursuing the construction of an estimated P4.2 billion Coron-Culion Inter-island Bridge.

Launched on March 6, DPWH Sec. Mark Villar said the inter-island bridge will connect Barangay Bintuan in Coron to Lusong and Marily islands in Culion. It will be a bridge that is over 20 kilometers under the Build Build Build (BBB) program of the national government.

The petitioners who call their group SAVE through said “the bridge construction is going to be within the five-kilometer radius of seven of the top underwater attractions in Coron and Culion — Lusong Coral Gardens, Lusong Gunboat Shipwreck, Irako Shipwreck, Olympia Maru Shipwreck, Kogyo Maru Shipwreck, Morazan Maru Shipwreck, and Akitsushima Shipwreck” in Sangat Bay.

“Heavy sedimentation, dredging, and making roads connecting islands to mainlands will kill nearby reefs and damage shipwrecks which are popular destinations for tourists,” the petitioners claimed.

They said six of these underwater sites are also historical for they are Japanese WW2 shipwrecks that date back to September 24, 1944.

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“Heavy sedimentation from the construction will settle upon these fragile shipwrecks and potentially cause the collapse of these precious historical underwater sites. Nowhere else in the world will you find as beautifully preserved dive sites, in perfect conditions for SCUBA diving, snorkeling and free diving,” the petitioners added.

The petitioners further claimed that the coral gardens, a popular snorkeling destination among tourists due to its colorful and diverse shallow coral reefs, is in “great danger” as it will be within a kilometer proximity to the proposed interisland bridge.

Run offs and silts can lead to “murky waters which means that the corals will be unable to receive sunlight critical for zooxanthellae (which provide corals their food and calcium carbonate to grow), and heavy sediments, dusts, and soil can also settle on the corals and suffocate them”.

They claimed coral bleaching can result too in damaged or dead reefs not only in Lusong Coral Gardens but growth in the shipwrecks that function as artificial reefs since 1944.

“The construction of this bridge puts in danger, not only these environmental and historical sites but also the local livelihoods of so many tourism stakeholders who reply on these beautiful attractions,” said the petitioners.

Targeting 10,000 signatures, the online petition has already gained over 8,000 as of this writing.

The petitioners in the non-profit organization are calling on the DPWH “to release the engineering and structural design of the Coron-Culion bridge, conduct proper and thorough environmental and economic impact assessments; present the results of these impact assessments in a transparent manner to all stakeholders, and together with affected stakeholders, create strategic plans and safety nets and provide corresponding budget that will ensure protection and preservation of the surrounding environment and tourism sites”.

They also want a stop on the backfilling between Bintuan and Lusong until what they have requested have been addressed by the DPWH.

Among the signatories are Bishop Edgardo S. Juanich, who said he is signing because the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) requires such project to do a free prior informed consent (FPIC) properly.

“I am signing because according to IPRA, a Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) must be properly sought and fulfilled first before such project be implemented in ancestral lands (or claims) more especially on those that will directly affect lives and culture of indigenous communities – The Calamian Tagbanua Tribe in this particular case,” Juanich said.

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