“Now that the corals are dead, will anyone of you and anyone in government finally listen?”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 11 December) — “There are no words to describe the underwater murder that has been happening… From three months back, we’ve been trying to speak for the reef. Now that the corals are dead, will any one of you and anyone in government finally listen?” 

Ecoteneo director Mylai Santos asked this question during “Wednesday’s Habi at Kape” as environmental groups and resort owners are finalizing legal actions against the implementation of the multi-billion Samal Island-Davao City Connector (SIDC) after calls for realignment of the bridge project to save the Paradise Reef have remained unheeded. 

Marine biologist Dr. John Lacson said a 10-square meter part of the reef has been destroyed. 

Santos said the legal teams of the Rodriguez and Lucas families and the Dominic & Sons Realty Development Corp., including the alliance of environmental advocates supported by the Ateneo de Davao College of Law, have been preparing for legal actions since the ground breaking of the SIDC project last October 27.

“Cases will be filed in time,” she said. 

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (2nd from left) and Vice President Sara Duterte (left) lead the lowering of a time capsule during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Samal Island – Davao City Connector bridge in Davao City on October 27, 2022. Assisting Marcos and Duterte are (from right to left) Samal Island Mayor Al David Uy, Davao City Mayor Sebastian Duterte and Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary Manuel Bonoan. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Environmental advocates have opposed the bridge’s current alignment because it would damage Paradise Reef, a 300 meter contiguous reef situated on the coast of Costa Marina Beach Resort and adjacent Paradise Island Park & Beach Resort in Barangay Caliclic, Babak District in the Island Garden City of Samal (IGaCoS).

She said they are alarmed that the ongoing borehole drillings conducted by Chinese workers have already destroyed portions of the reef.

(UPDATED as of 9:42 pm: Santos said “the computation by Dr. John Lacson of Paradise Reef is 7,500 square meters in size.” She said this is a 300 to 400 meter long swim from first jetty to third jetty.

Santos noted that the destruction of the reef was documented by Lacson and Dr. Fred Medina, Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving Commissioner.

Lacson said destroying a “valuable coral reef” is a crime under R.A. 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code which prohibits activities that damage coral reefs.

Lacson said divers found an anchor from the barge embedded in the coral reef early this month, documenting the destruction of around 10 square meters of the reef.

“On December 6, we videoed the tugboat directly on top of this marker. They were pulling up the anchor with different ropes that had been tangled with the coral reef. When they pulled up the anchor, they destroyed about 10-meter square of coral reef,” he said.

Paradise Reef: Before and After

He said they are not against the construction of the SIDC but are hoping for the realignment of the project.

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.

On the Davao City side, the landing point is situated at R. Castillo-Daang Maharlika junction in Barangay Hizon, crossing over a marine protected area of Barangay Hizon, which is included in the Comprehensive Land-Use Plan (CLUP) 2018-2028.

The Rodriguez families questioned the lack of consultation before the government proceeded with the implementation of the project.

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 bridge project.

The state-owned China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), the contractor, has been selected as the contractor project, which will be completed in five years.

“Manila 607” barge of Chinese contractors of the Samal Island-Davao City Connector (SIDC) bridge project is stationed off the waters of Lizada in Barangay Hizon, Davao City in this photo taken at 10:05 a.m. on Saturday,10 December 2022. Ecoteneo’s Mylai Santos says tugboat Rosky positions the barge to where it will conduct drilling operations. Environmental groups and resort owners are preparing for legal actions as calls for the realignment of the bridge to save Paradise Reef have remained unheeded. MindaNews photo by YAS D. OCAMPO

Amid strong opposition from environment advocates, the groundbreaking for the SIDC Connector project was done on October 27, graced by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Vice President Sara Duterte and key cabinet officials. 

Marcos said the bridge would enhance access to employment, education, and other services for the residents of Samal and provide access to the island’s tourism sites.

Once completed, he said, the P19.381-billion (as of Sunday) bridge project would accommodate up to 25,000 vehicles daily and significantly reduce the travel time between the two cities from 50 minutes to four and a half.

“In 2027, this bridge will surely ease the convenience of travel and transport, bringing forth gainful opportunities for many of our people by providing a link between relatively far-flung areas and economic centers, thereby ensuring smoother mobility of people and of goods,” Marcos said.  

“That they held this groundbreaking ceremony amidst the issues the project is facing, belies what they want the public to believe that everything is okay with this project,” Ecoteneo’s Santos said then.

She said pursuing the project while bypassing the proper procedures made the national government “look like a national bully.” (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)