Fate of Davao-Samal Bridge project up to next administration – official

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

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 17 February) — After several postponements of the start of its construction the outgoing administration is now pinning its hopes on its successor to prioritize the multi-billion Davao City-Samal Bridge project.

Mabel Sunga-Acosta, newly appointed chair of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), said construction could not start without the loan agreement between the Philippines and China, which is until under negotiation.

In a virtual press conference via Zoom on Thursday, Acosta said the P19.321 billion project is being worked out despite the setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

She assured MinDA will push for the implementation of Davao-Samal bridge and other big-ticket projects in Mindanao even after the end of the six-year term of President Rodrigo R. Duterte on June 30.

“Davao-Samal bridge is in the works. It has encountered setbacks because of the pandemic but it’s still in the works and, hopefully, this will be taken up by the next administration come July 1,” she said.

MinDA Assistant Secretary Romeo Montenegro added that the implementation on the Davao side “has been progressing well, particularly in the notice of taking issuance” to property owners but added it has yet to start on Samal side “because this will have to be anchored on the finalization of the loan agreement between Philippines, particularly Department of Finance (DOF) and the Chinese counterpart.”

“That is where we are right now, awaiting the final outcome of negotiations between DOF and China, particularly the loan agreement for the Davao-Samal project. Once this agreement is firmed up and signed, that will set into motion all other specific activities needed to be undertaken to start the bridge project,” he said.

On January 14, 2021, the Department of Public Works and Highways and China Road and Bridge Corporation signed the design and build contract agreement after the Chinese contractor won the bidding and was subsequently issued with the notice of award on December 14, 2020.

However, the DOF submitted on April 26 an updated loan application reflecting the revised financing ratio of 90% loan and 10% local fund to China International Development Cooperation Agency and Export-Import Bank of China.

According to DPWH, the project will “provide a resilient and reliable transportation link between Metro Davao & Samal Island, enhancing internal mobility and external linkage to support the growth potential of Davao region.”

It added that it would also provide ease of access to tourism activities in Samal, enhance community access to employment, education and other social services and alternative routes during emergency situations and disasters.

The construction of a toll-free four-lane bridge – with two lanes each direction – can serve around 25,000 vehicles a day between Davao City and Samal crossing over Pakiputan Strait, according to DPWH.

Acosta added that one of the main agenda of MinDA is to advance the development of Mindanao, particularly by advocating for the big-ticket projects to connect areas in the island.

“We have so many isolated islands that we need to reach. We have underserved islands and trade routes, including fish port and airport. Aside from trading with Manila and Cebu, we are also trading others with BIMP-EAGA. So, we need to strengthen that,” she said.

BIMP-EAGA or Brunei, Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area is a 25-year old sub-regional economic cooperation initiative in Southeast Asia designed to spur economic development in the lagging sub-economies.

She said the new administration will play a crucial role in terms of fiscal management because big-ticket projects take years to complete.

“The new set of administration come July 1 will play a big part in continuance of big ticket projects in Mindanao, and MinDA will push for it as we don’t want that Mindanao will be left behind in terms of infrastructure that is needed for development because we need inter-connectivity within Mindanao and also with other areas in the Philippines and BIMP-EAGA,” she said.

Montenegro added MinDA is confident that the big-ticket projects, including the Mindanao Railway project, will be pursued as priorities of the incoming administration since these are the same priorities that Mindanawons would want to see implemented by the national government.

“We also subscribe to the earlier proposals of NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority) and DOF for long-term infrastructure programming in the Philippines,” he added.

He said Finance secretary Sonny Dominguez and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua cited the need for infrastructure projects to be programmed for a 30-year period “because many of our big-ticket projects are multi-year and long gestating and can span beyond the lifetime of a particular administration.”

“What is essential to point out, hence, is that these projects need to be planned, programmed, and guaranteed with funding, both under General Appropriations Act and outside financing over a long-term period to make sure that regardless of any changes in political administration, these projects remain to be priorities for the people and of the government,” he added. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)