Why our Roads are Substandard

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By Max Sangil

Short Jabs

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


OUR public affairs program, 'Talakayan' over DWRW 95.1 wherein I am part of the five-man anchor team led by veteran broadcaster Perry Pangan with Boy Santiago, head of the marketing group of the radio station; Albert Lacanlale, editor-in-chief of the rival paper Headline; and Deng Pangilinan, chairman of the Mabalacat Water District, love to look down from our third-storey window and watch the road workers.

"They have been doing that road for more than a year," I told Boy. "And do you think they can finish that in five years?," I added. He looked at me and thought I was joking.

You may interpret it as a joke, but I am not kidding. A few hundred-meter stretch of that road fronting CarWorld and the CGIC building along Jose Abad Santos Avenue in San Fernando has been undergoing repairs as far as I can remember, and the truth is, they are not even half-finished. We may as well page the Department of Public Works and Highways Undersecretary Rafael C. Yabut, a cabalen from Candaba and Lita Manalo, the project manager.

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In 1984 I was traveling from Bonn, Germany to Paris, France via Brussels and I marveled at their highways or "auto bahns" as called by the locals. A German friend told me that this maze of highways was built in the '30s and there have been no repairs done on them yet.

I went back to the same places, the same routes in 2006 with then Governor Lito Lapid, newsmen Bong Lacson and Lino Sanchez Jr., the late Porac Mayor Roy David and public works contractors Doret Tombo and Rico Bautista. When our rented van was cruising the auto bahns, I pointed to the group, specifically to Lino who then as an active reporter was covering the public works offices, that these roads never underwent any repairs as far back as the '30s. Lino and Bong's immediate retort: "Alang SOP keni."

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In many places, even roads in many Asian countries, are now in tip-top condition, particularly in Malaysia and Thailand. Road constructions there don't solicit the patience of motorists. They finish on schedule. I asked a friend working at the DPWH why roads are mostly substandard in our country. His reply is the same as what Lino and Bong shouted back at me when we were cruising on our way to Paris in 2006.

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I remember in 1975, the country was preparing for the staging of the Miss Universe Pageant. (For those old enough, you may want to recall this contest won by Miss Amparo Munoz of Spain). Then First Lady Imelda Marcos tasked our cabalen, the late Public Works Deputy Minister Aber P. Canlas, to build a venue where to hold the pageant. The fabulous Imeldific preferred a site close to the Manila bay.

Canlas has to reclaim a portion of the bay which is near the Hotel Sofitel now and the Coconut Palace. He finished the structure in a reclaimed area in a record time of 70 days. It was known as the Folk Arts Theater. One for the books, you may say. The structure now renamed Bulwagang Balagtas withstood over the years typhoons and earthquakes. It still stands proud, a legacy left by a Kapampangan engineer.

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Why is it that in the good old days, they built good roads in our country and were finished on schedule, even with the lack of all these modern-day heavy equipment? How did Filipinos then able to build the rice terraces? How come now, with all those engineers passing the board with flying colors and with masters degrees from engineering schools abroad, cannot go above constructing sub-standard roads? Why? Is SOP the culprit as Lino and Bong claimed?

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on February 07, 2013.

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