BONGAO, TAWI-TAWI—A transformative infrastructure project linking the two main islands of Tawi-Tawi is being completed here by national and regional agencies, with assistance from the U.S. government.
The Tawi-Tawi bridge-road project, which directly links Sanga-Sanga island, where the airport is located, with the main island of Tawi-Tawi, is expected to bring about the full transformation of the local economy.
The bridge-road connection will enable local growers to transport their crops and other products more efficiently and at lower cost to Bongao, which is located on Sanga-Sanga island and is the center of commercial activity in the province.
“This will greatly improve the livelihood of farmers, particularly in the municipalities on Tawi-Tawi island, such as Panglima Sugala, Sapa-Sapa and Languyan,” said Tawi-Tawi Governor Sadikul Sahali. “Upland growers will have an easier time getting their harvests to markets.”
The project is a partnership involving the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the Tawi-Tawi provincial government, and the Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Through the GEM Program, USAID has helped to improve the island-province’s economy through 51 barangay infrastructure projects, including the construction of 26 boat landings.
Six larger infrastructure projects completed by GEM in Tawi-Tawi include the extension and widening of the Bongao airport runway, which enabled Airphil Express to establish a Zamboanga-Bongao route, now plied four times weekly by a 77-seater Bombardier Q400.
The bridge-road project includes the ongoing construction by DPWH of three steel bridges (155 meters, 102 meters and 40 meters long) with connector roads, as well as a 900-meter road linking two of the bridges, on the islet of Bakhaw Dakula.
“This has been a longtime dream here, to have a land connection between the two largest islands.” said Nazrullah Masahud, vice president of the Tawi-Tawi Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
An 8.4-km road connecting the bridges to the Tawi-Tawi island highway network is being upgraded by DPWH-ARMM, while the upgrading of the 9.3-km road connecting the Sanga-Sanga side will completed in July by the GEM Program, which is implemented under the oversight of the Mindanao Development Authority.
Once it is finished, the bridge-road project will facilitate the flow of people, goods and services throughout the province, helping to generate commercial activity and provide better access to schools and health and social services available only in Bongao.
“Transport between Bongao, the market center, and agricultural areas will much more direct and speedy,” said Rolando Lim, former president of the chamber of commerce.
Previously, passengers and cargo commuting across municipalities had no choice but to travel by motorboat in open water.
“There are months when the water current is very strong, and the loading and unloading of produce is time-consuming,” said Masahud. “Being able to utilize land vehicles will definitely make things more efficient, and reduce transport costs.”
He said he expected growers to begin expanding production and diversifying their crops, following the infrastructure improvements. “Previously, farmers had told me that they hesitated to engage in new ventures because transport was undependable,” Masahud said.
He added that the bridge-road connections would also facilitate the installation of water pipelines and electric power connections to serve rapidly growing communities between Bongao and Panglima Sugala.
The GEM Program has worked with the Tawi-Tawi chamber of commerce to improve local business activity, and assisted more than 1,300 former combatants of the Moro National Liberation Front to engage in the production and marketing of higher-value farming and aquaculture products.
It has also partnered with the parent-teacher associations of more than 50 schools in the province to expand their libraries, science labs and other resources through an educational matching grant component, and provided 18 schools with computers and internet connections. GEM