Family eyes Writ of Kalikasan vs Davao-Samal bridge project

Excursionists disembark at Babak District in Samal Island, Davao del Norte. MindaNews file photo

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 18 September) – A family operating two resorts in Samal Island might be forced to seek relief from the Supreme Court through a Writ of Kalikasan to stop the Davao City-Island Garden City of Samal (IGACOS) bridge project if government ignores its appeal to move its landing site to save the rich marine life in Paradise Reef.

Lawyer Julito Sarmiento, chief executive officer and founder of Climate Change Adaptation Resettlement Earth (CARE) Commune, said in a virtual press conference on Thursday that the filing of the writ serves as the last resort for the Rodriguez family.

The writ is a legal remedy that provides protection for the people’s constitutional right to a healthy environment.

Sarmiento said the family has been negotiating with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and Hong-Kong-based consultant Ove Arup, to convince them to reconsider the chosen landing site, from August 2019 when they came to know about, instead of immediately going to court.

He said Ove Arup chose Paradise Island Park and Beach Resort and Costa Marina Beach Resort, both owned by the family, as the landing site of the 3.98-kilometer bridge, threatening marine life in the reef.

“They are themselves asking for the delay of the bridge and no matter how difficult it is for the family that there will be a delay because a Writ of Kalikasan will certainly delay it, then, the family will have no choice, despite strong reservation, if there is no other option, the last resort of the family is to file a Writ of Kalikasan. That would delay the construction of the bridge, which the family, of course, does not want to happen,” he said.

Sarmiento added the family has been asking the government to move the land portion of the bridge project to Bridgeport, the old shipyard in Babak District, which the Japan International Cooperation Agency identified as the “best site” in its feasibility study conducted in 2016.

Bridgeport is a 12-hectare township project of Damosa Land Inc. owned by the family of former Davao del Norte 2nd District representative Antonio “Tony Boy” Floirendo Jr., a close ally of President Rodrigo R. Duterte and one of his top campaign funders.

In a 100-page project description of “Samal Island-Davao City Connector Project” published on the website of the Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the land portion of the bridge will fall on residential and industrial areas in Barangay Hizon from the side of Davao City.

It added that the alignment on the other end of the bridge will be positioned between the two Rodriguez family-owned resorts, as well as near to Mercado Subdivision which will serve as the indirect impact areas in Barangays Caliclic and Limao from the Samal side.

The bridge, one of the 75 big-ticket flagship projects under the “Build, Build, Build” program of the Duterte administration, was conceptualized in 1970.

“The proposed project will link the existing road networks of Davao City and IGACOS enhancing the economic activity in both cities. The benefits of the project include a resilient and solid transportation, access to education, employment and business opportunities as well as other services the two cities can and will offer,” it said.

The Investment Coordination Committee-Cabinet Committee approved the implementation of the project on Nov. 6, 2019. The National Economic Development Authority Board confirmed it on Nov. 29, 2019.

The construction of the bridge is expected to start in the first quarter of 2021.

Sarmiento said the reef, considered one of the best diving spots in the island, houses a rich marine biodiversity, including healthy sea grasses, corals and other marine life.

He said the family was frustrated that the government has apparently ignored their appeal despite efforts to present the detailed findings of the marine science study conducted by a team of independent marine biologists led by Dr. Filipina Sotto, commissioner of the Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving.

The study found that pursuing the final landing site would cause the rich marine biodiversity of coral reefs and marine life of Paradise Reef an “irreparable, irremediable, and incalculable damage.”

“For the family, the Writ of Kalisakan will delay — the immediate reaction of the family — it will delay. They don’t want to delay, so they are begging DPWH and Arup even before they make the final design, the detailed engineering design to consider the ‘second best’ alignment in their own feasibility study,” Sarmiento said.

He added the family also offered to donate El Paril Beach Property as the location for the landing site.

Joey Gatus, a member of the Federation of Institution for Marine and Freshwater Sciences and Philippine Association of Marine Sciences, said the widespread sedimentation and emission of plumes as a result of the digging in the seabed would affect not only Paradise Reef but also the contiguous reefs.

He estimated that the reef within half-kilometer radius from the location of the landing site would be destroyed, a destruction which cannot be avoided even if the engineers would put a sediment trap to contain the spread of plumes.

“As we all know, Pakiputan Strait is really a ‘high velocity’ current. You would expect a wider distribution of those plumes, if not mitigated properly. And, you know, sedimentation or the sediments and corals don’t match together because corals will be smothered and covered by the sediments. So, that particular area in between, expect those coral reefs to be, conservatively half a kilometer, affected,” he added.

The high current in the strait would carry light sediments across the Davao Gulf, he said.

“But knowing the current system in Pakiputan is quite fast, it means it can carry these light sediments to much wider areas. If they really follow the silt curtain and everything that also would help. But in terms of directly hit, whether you put a curtain or not, there is half a kilometer that would be affected. For those scuba divers take a picture, that might be your last but but we’re not hoping for that. We’re hoping to fight it out,” he said.

Experts conducted a marine science study to compare the marine ecosystem on Paradise Reef with El those in Paril Beach Property and Bridgeport.

Bridgeport, identified by a feasibility study of JICA as the “best site” for the construction of the main bridge and the approach viaduct on Samal Island, was the least biologically productive area of the three areas covered by the study conducted by Sotto’s team.

Sotto said the final landing site of the bridge would damage the best marine ecosystem of the island, causing irreversible adverse ecological impact to the Davao Gulf as a key marine biodiversity area.

She called on Arup to redesign and realign the bridge and to select the area in front of Bridgeport as its final landing site. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)