The road to Cateel

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014


I MUST admit that I have been quite critical of the Department of Public Works and Highways. I still am. I used to live north of Davao City and from the time R. Castillo Street was repaired (for the nth time) traffic along the stretch of Bajada has always been in the state of pandemonium. I cannot comprehend how DPWH officials can tolerate the snail pace of construction in that major thoroughfare in the city, which by the way goes all the way to Quezon Boulevard. While we see construction equipment along the stretch most of the time if not all of the time these machines are idle and instead we see few workers armed with pick and shovel. It gives us the impression that the contractor has what it takes to build but when we see idle equipment and a handful of laborers moving it gives us the impression that we are being fooled and DPWH is so inured to inefficiency.

That is why I have some sort of surprise in my life when I heard that DPWH is perceptibly present in the coastal towns of Davao Oriental trying to assess the extent of the damage on infrastructures that had been inundated by flash floods that caused by incessant rains that lasted for days. The low pressure area east of the country has virtually remained stationary thereby causing copious rains in the eastern coastal towns of Davao Oriental and eastern regions of Mindanao and Visayas.

The five municipalities in Davao Oriental are virtually isolated when the old bridges collapsed as cascading floods that with of loose soil, rocks and other debris left by Typhoon Pablo last year. It likewise covered many parts of the coastal roads rendering the five towns unreachable. What Typhoon Pablo failed to destroy, heavy rains and consequently floods finished these off. Sadly, the same victims of Pablo suffered from the recent calamity.

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Given the irreparable bridges which used to cut across very wide-menacing rivers, DPWH should seriously look at other alternatives. There is that Compostela-Cateel road which I gathered was partially destroyed by Typhoon Pablo but had not been restored to full use. On a personal note, early on during President Cory’s term when I was co-chairman of the Infrastructure Development Committee of the Regional Development Council, we fought hard to have that highway approved. For one, the logging concessionaires in those times do not want to have a national road cutting across the timber lands. Some shipping companies who make money on cargoes from the isolated towns also prodded politicians to oppose the plan. Then there is that economic and population data which puts the east coast in the very low priority lists for major infrastructures. As the principal author of the resolution to have that road plan approved I argued that if the towns in the east coast of Davao Oriental will remain isolated for lack of infrastructures they will remain economically stagnant and therefore will not qualify for major government infrastructure program.

Why Cateel? The town has over 12,000 hectares of irrigable land and is the focal point in the east coast development. Feeder reads can be constructed branching out to the other coastal towns. River banks are narrow therefore costs of building bridges will be a lot cheaper.

That highway became an important artery to most of the coastal towns as it cuts to more than half the travel time and reduced the cost of transporting farmers produce to the consumer markets. This road therefore is vital to the development of the province. Clearing and upgrading the highway could address a lot of problems that presently beset the province of Davao Oriental and some parts of Comval Province. It might also cost less than building back bridges across very wide rivers since from this highway DPWH can build new roads that could lead to the coastal towns. In short the wide expanse of the mouth of the rivers where most of the bridges are built can actually be avoided.

In retrospect, the construction of that road was not as easy as eating pie. The New People’s Army harassed the construction firm prompting DPWH to ask the Army Engineering battalion to help to realize that vital artery. The other day, I had a long distance talk with Gov. Corazon Malanyaon to inquire about the damage wrought by the LPA. I was surprised to learn that she was motoring somewhere in Lingig, which is north of Boston the last frontier town of Davao Oriental in the east. She said that actually she has to pass through San Francisco in Agusan del Sur to get to the devastated towns in her province. It does not stand to reason why people from Davao Oriental have to travel all the way to San Francisco and on to Lingig in Surigao del Sur when there is a link that needs little money and a lot of determination on the part of DPWH to make it passable to commuters and traders. I told the governor about this and she said that that is the best solution. She kidded me saying, “You fought for this before, I hope you fight for this again.” I will.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on January 21, 2014.

Opinion

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