Demanding that government officials reassess the multi-billion 3.98-kilometer Samal Island-Davao Connector (SIDC) project, Ecoteneo convened government representatives and stakeholders from Davao and Island Garden City of Samal (IGACOS) for a dialogue on its current situation and implications.
Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ began the dialogue, stating that they are not against the SIDC project but advocate its “clear alternatives.”
In the absence of the Unified Project Management Office, Ecoteneo Director Carmela Marie Santos spoke about the bridge’s frameworks and environmental concerns, including the studies by the lead company, Ove Arup & Partners Hong Kong Ltd, and local results. She revealed that some research from different sources did not match.
Meanwhile, Department of Environment and Natural Resources Coastal Resource Management Office representative Dominic Cabactulan shared that they had a 690 meters long dive into documenting the underwater organisms in the area, which they published on a Facebook post.
“We are not denying that there are coral reef colonies in the area. In fact, on our joint underwater assessment with Dr. Filipina Sotto and as our lead dive, si Dr. Lacson, we recorded 12.2 percent hard corals pero yun nga, sa aming technical bulleting, si 12.2% is under poor category,” he said.
Amid speculations that there is no thriving coral community in the areas affected by the bridge, Dr. Filipina Sotto from FBS-Environment and Community Research and Development Services debunked the information by proving that there are corals based on their biophysical assessment in 2019.
The Rodriguez-Lucas family of Paradise-Costa Marina Beach Resort clarified that they offered another land space for an alternative landing site to save the paradise reef, which the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) declined.
“The DPWH team was so compelling convinced to Dr. Sotto’s study that they promised to reconsider and rediscuss based on the results of her study. But ever since then after talking to DPWH, [and] engaging with them, we’ve been waiting for DPWH to come back to us and tell us what the result of their reconsideration or rediscussion or revisit of their Arup study, and they never came back to us.”
SAMAHAN President Samanta Cayona expressed sympathy for both sides of the party but also showed her dismay at the nature of the environmental impact assessment system as the primary decision-makers for the SIDC project are from the capital instead of the people close and on the ground.
“In the heart of environmental impact assessment is public participation. There need to be proper consultations [and] public hearings, that are inclusive, and I think that was not met in the environmental assessment system in this project.”
Student Environmental Alliance of Davao representative and Samal resident also Jewel Batoon revealed that most fishermen support the SIDC but do not know about the environmental and economic impacts of the bridge.
“They [fisher folks] don’t know na that bridge pala can possibly halt their livelihood, which is very much concerning. Ang pinapakita lang kasi sa news is the positive side,” she said.
Philippine Movement for Climate Justice Representative Rara Ada emphasized that 90% of the budget will be coming from debt, noting, “Sana naman para ‘di masakit sa ating kalooban na magbayad sa utang na ‘yan, at least sana beneficial sa kalikasan.”
Other individuals from environmental organizations and public institutions pointed out the need for pragmatic solutions on the local scale, such as bolstering public education, conducting surveys in schools, and providing valuable information to the locals.
Synthesizing the program, Atty. Romeo Cabarde highlighted the symbiotic relationship between environment and development.
“There must be a careful balance between progress and environment. By balance, I mean progress should be pursued without hurting the environment,” he said.
No representative from the Department of Public Works and Highways showed up for the discussion despite the invitation, stating in a letter response that it is to “avoid statements from being misconstrued.”
From the local government side, a Kagawad from Brgy. Hizon was the only one present.
The Bridge to Reef: A Pakighinabi on Understanding the SIDC Project was held on November 5, 2022, at San Vitores Hall 11F CCFC Building and via Zoom. The event was also live-streamed on Ateneo de Davao University’s Official Facebook page.