That Samal bridge again

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By Gary Covington

Looking In

Monday, May 12, 2014


EVERY now and again it pops up; the proposal to construct a massive and hugely expensive road bridge between mainland Davao City and Samal Island. Some are for, some are against, but once the traffic has negotiated the Samal end toll booth (Samal's big on tolls) where will it go?

There is one National Highway on Samal winding (And how) from Babak, via Penaplata, to Kaputian 24 kilometers distant. That's it. No more cement apart from a few short stubs; a six-kilometer stretch from Babak north to Cadmudmud which benefits the speculative coastal development and nobody else; a two kilometer bit south from the ferry landing which runs out at a wall of trees and, handily, opposite two popular beachside resorts (Rule #93:There's no such thing as a coincidence). There's a five kilometer shortcut from the ferry landing to Penaplata avoiding Babak and there's a mysterious two kilometer stretch from Lower Tambo to Upper Tambo.

The rest of Samal's 'roads' are rocky limestone tracks from awful to appalling. Now and again, in the middle of nowhere, the traveler comes across a solitary ten-meter section presumably laid more in anticipation of village basketball than the convenience of road users. Limestone is a hard, sharp rock. It lacerates tires and, if you ground your wagon, slices through pipes, cables and bits of undercarriage with ease. Samal's tracks are not for the ordinary overloaded weekend sedan. Nor are they for the fainthearted; gradients near the coast - access to beachside villages - can be ferocious, like landing an aeroplane. Four-wheel drive is essential.

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The Circumferential Road, so proudly shown in green on the official map, does not exist. It used to, starting out generations ago as a footpath, horse path, cart track serving the coastal fishing communities. With use and the invention of the internal combustion engine it widened out to a motorcycle track and then, just about, a track negotiable by cars and small trucks. It took no notice of land ownership but then came development mania. Landowners realized they were sitting on potential goldmines, started sell or develop their properties and closed that pesky circumferential track, the track which divided their land into two commercially inconvenient halves.

Here the Samal governance should have raised its hand; pointing out that the track had been used by the public for 20, 30, 40, 50 years and thus should be regarded as a permanent public right of way and therefore a barangay road. But, as happens over here on the mainland, the governance kowtowed to big business and the circumferential road is no more, hacked into segments for the convenience of landowners who have no need of land access - their target is the rich yacht-borne trade and dollar tourists which and who arrive by sea.

I used to cycle from Babak to Tambo and beyond on a very pleasant and, important for an overweight biker, flat 'circumferential road' mostly under the shade of palms and mangoes. Not anymore. It's closed by resort and subdivision developers. Similarly, southwards, it used to
be possible to trundle all the way from the ferry landing, past innumerable small resorts, to Penaplata. No longer.

Samal Island is pleasantly pastoral, the town and villages in no condition to receive an onslaught of bridge-borne traffic. Babak can only just cope with the present load. I can't imagine Penaplata, with its dinky one-way system handling more traffic (Roll down the windows and touch the buildings both sides). Kaputian Roadside trees touch branches over the main street.

There are no road signs on Samal. No 'This way to Limao' or arrows 'To Adecor via San Jose' signposts by the side of the many, many tracks which head off from the cement. Today's weekend ferry-borne crowd head south or north to the nearest seaside resort, no directions needed, but how about tourists or visitors who may like to venture further. I've learnt to navigate by school - there's some beautifully maintained schools on Samal - or by chapels and barangay halls which, however modest, usually display a name. Local knowledge is limited; ask anyone in Babak how to get to the White House and you'll see what I mean.

Twenty-four kilometers of cement highway. Fifteen kilometers of odds and ends. A circumferential road which isn't. Rocky tracks the norm. No road signs. Not even a decent large-scale tourist map. Samal doesn't need a bridge - Samal needs an infrastructure of decent roads, signposts and street names.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on May 13, 2014.

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