Samal resorts to sue ‘trespassing’ Chinese contractors, gov’t escorts

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 5 Oct) – The owners of the Paradise Island Park and Beach Resort and Costa Marina Beach Resort are planning to file criminal complaints after an alleged “harassment” when a representative of a Chinese contractor of the multi-billion Samal Island-Davao City Connector (SIDC) project, accompanied by government workers, illegally entered their properties on Tuesday.

The proposed Samal Island-Davao City Connector (SIDC) bridge project. Illustration from DPWH bidding document.

In a statement dated October 4 but released on Wednesday, the Rodriguez family said trespassing, coercion, and other criminal charges are being mulled against the resorts’ unwelcome guests, including officials from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), who arrived on speedboats and were escorted by “armed men.”

They said the “Chinese contractors” were accompanied by several men who identified themselves as representatives of the DPWH, of the Island Garden City of Samal, and the City Environment and Natural Resources Office of Panabo City.

The family claimed the group, onboard a speedboat reportedly owned by a well-known politician, illegally entered resort premises unannounced.

“The surprise visitors requested audience with the resort owner and access to the foreshore areas to drill boreholes, claiming they were public properties,” the statement read.

DPWH-Davao, however, said during the AFP-PNP Press Conference at the Royal Mandaya Hotel Davao on Wednesday, admitted that one Chinese national affiliated with state-owned China Road and Bridge Corporation was escorted by some officials from DPWH and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to undertake “inspection and validation.”

But Dean Ortiz, DPWH-Davao information officer, denied that there was harassment or coercion.

He claimed the project manager and a representative from the local government informed the family that they would dock at the Costa Marina.

He said the family even had a meeting with officials from CENRO and local government to discuss the project.

Ortiz said he was not privy to the details of the meeting but claimed it was “rather pleasant.”

He said the Chinese national was taken to the Bluejaz Beach Resort and Waterpark where representatives of the foreign contractor are billeted.

Asked if the speedboats were owned by Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, Ortiz denied, saying the water vehicles were rented by the DPWH and not sponsored by any politician.

The family said armed men “who looked menacing with their long firearms were requested to leave the property or deposit their firearms at the entrance to avoid alarming tourists and guests in Davao’s most popular family resort.”

But Ensign Vasit Venturillo, station commander of the PCG Station in IGACOS, said only two personnel from Coast Guard were deployed to assist the Chinese national and other government officials.

“Our intention is to provide safety to them,” he said.

He said there were two speed boats with 8 to 10 passengers.

Ortiz added that they did not intend to bore holes on the Paradise Reef contrary to claims made by the resorts’ owners.

The Rodriguez family claimed that during the visits, permits and clearances for borehole drilling were sought from the Chinese contractors but added that none were produced.

Workers from the People’s Republic of China drill for soil samples for the Samal Island-Davao City Connector (SIDC) Project along Lanang in Davao City on September 6, 2022. MindaNews file photo

The family added that the resort manager explained that the “foreshore areas were covered by subsisting foreshore lease agreements with the government.”

After a long discussion, the group of Chinese contractors and government personnel left in separate directions,” the family added.

They said the Rodriguez-Lucas family supports the SIDC Project but appealed for “its realignment,” offering to donate to DPWH its Lumos beach property as an alternative landing site in Samal Island to save the Paradise Reef, which the family has preserved for almost a century.

The landing point of the SIDC) project, also known as the Davao City-Samal Bridge, is situated on the coast of Costa Marina Beach Resort, which is adjacent to Paradise Island Park & Beach Resort in Barangay Caliclic, Babak District of IGACOS.

The Paradise Reef is a 300-meter contiguous reef situated on the coast of the two adjacent resorts, operated by the Rodriguez and Lucas families.

The family questioned the lack of prior consultation, saying the present “alignment was chosen in a workshop in Manila without the participation of local landowners and stakeholders.”

They added that the Environmental Compliance Certificate for the SIDC project was issued without a prior Protected Area Management Board clearance.

Contrary to DPWH’s claim that the Samal landing site is outside a protected area, they said the entire Samal Island remains a protected area and was, in fact, established as a Mangrove Swamp Forest Reserve under Proclamation No. 2152, series of 1981, an initial component of the National Integrated Protected Areas System.

“The law requires an act of Congress to disestablish a protected area or modify its boundary. The DPWH has not come forward with any such evidence insofar as Samal Island is concerned,” they said.

Last June 13, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian exchanged with then Finance Secretary Dominguez the signed Framework Agreement and Loan Agreement worth $350 million or P18.67 billion for the 3.98-kilometer SIDC project.

Dr. John Lacson, who has a doctorate degree in marine biology from the University of Texas, believed that the mitigating measures that DPWH and Ove Arup and Partners Hong Kong Ltd. (the government consultant that designed the project) intend to put up would not suffice to protect the reef from an irreversible destruction.

He said the reef, a “hidden treasure of Samal,” is an important “gene bank.”

Narciso Rodriguez, manager of the Paradise Island Park & Beach Resort, added that the government should also take into consideration the environmental impact of the project.

“If they dredge in three locations over there,” he said, “the silt and mud will cover everything.”

He said marine biologists, who came over to study the coral reef, all came out with findings that dredging activities would bring havoc on the reef, causing irreparable damage, not only to Paradise Reef but also to the nearby ecosystem.

Once dredging starts, he said the silt could travel to as far as eight kilometers from the coast of Paradise Island and could reach Talicud Island and the nearby areas in Babak District.

“Nobody seems to be interested in conducting study because they are excited to put something here in Samal. So, everybody is blinded by the thought of constructing this long-awaited bridge and they do not care what the consequences will be,” he said.

Rodriguez said they are willing to donate another property, Caliclic Beach Resort, located about a kilometer away from Paradise Island, as an alternative site for Davao-Samal Bridge project’s landing point as its coast no longer has a coral reef capable of supporting a diverse marine ecosystem.

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.

The bridge, one of the 75 big-ticket flagship projects under the “Build, Build, Build” program of the past 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. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)