The Davao City Council – headed by vice mayor Sebastian Duterte – dovetails the position adopted by the Rodriguez-Lucas clan, the self-imposed “defenders” of the unspoiled Paradise Reef, the proposed landing site of the hotly debated Samal Island-Davao City (SIDC) connector bridge.
In a recent Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) hearing attended by different government agencies, local government, non-government organizations and other stakeholders, the city council contested the finality of the proposal set forth by the public works department’s Hong Kong-based engineering firm, Ove Arup, saying that they were not informed of the planned landing site when the consultancy was seeking approval.
Not only is the reef in danger from the bridge project, but so is nearby Barangay Hizon, even after the barangay officially declared its coastal areas a marine protected area for the purpose of rehabilitating it into a marine sanctuary.
The Rodriguez family was reportedly not consulted regarding the proposed alignment, which their lawyer described as a “failure of due process.”
Paradise Island Beach Resort, a popular diver’s destination thanks to its diverse marine life and healthy corals has been operated by the Rodriguezes of Sasa, Davao City—one of the pioneers of the region’s tourism industry—for 40 years now. They are related to the Lucas family, founders of the famous Rufina Patis of Malabon City.
They have been protecting Paradise Reef for 96 years now.
The Rodriguezes also questioned the issuance of the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC), which is required before any developmental activity could take place. A formal letter sent to both DPWH and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), pointed out that the release of the ECC bypassed a mandate (Presidential Proclamation No. 2152) declaring Samal Island as a Mangrove Forest Reserve, which makes it a National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS).
Under the law, any development project that is planning to be done in a NIPAS should secure clearance from the Protected Areas Management Board (PAMB). Arup, for their part, said that they had gotten a Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) certification, which cited that Paradise Reef was not in the NIPAS.
According to independent studies however, any construction done with the current alignment would cause critical damage to the reef.
The family’s lawyer said that a Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) study conducted by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) back in 2016 revealed that the most suitable site for the bridge’s alignment is the old shipyard (Bridgeport). Not only would it be more environmentally friendly, but it would also be shorter and cheaper.
A recent study commissioned by the Rodriguezes, led by the head of the University of San Carlos’ marine biology department, Dr. Filipina Sotto, focused on this particular site and two others: the current alignment which ran directly above Paradise Reef and the neighboring property of the family, El Paril Beach Resort (Lomos Beach), which is being offered as a donation to serve as an alternative landing site.
Sotto said that the construction would cause “massive sedimentation” which the reef would not survive.
Despite promises of “mitigation”, those pushing for the SIDC’s realignment fear that the reef will still have been destroyed, inevitably leading to the loss of food security and eco-tourism.
The family clarified that they are not against infrastructure, but that it should be sustainable and cause the least possible damage.
Louise NICHOLE LOGARTA