Despite serious concerns from a number of parties, construction of the Binondo-Intramuros Friendship Bridge has now started, and the impact this monumental structure will have on the area is becoming increasingly clear. Part of the government’s “Build, Build, Build” program and paid for with an infrastructure grant from China, the 737m crossing will connect San Fernando Street in Binondo to Solana Street and Riverside Drive in Intramuros, but questions are being asked why this four-lane roadway needs to be built in the first place.
The number of people critical about this project is large. Let’s start with the Chamber of Commerce of the Philippine Islands, an institution that has been around since 1886, and which is based not far from where the bridge will end on the Intramuros side. In a position paper, the organization is voicing its opposition and strong concerns about the project, stating that it could destroy the old Chamber of Commerce building on Magallanes Drive, as well as the historical environment of the walled city, including the Plaza de Mexico monument, the Puerta de Isabel monument and the very walls of Intramuros itself.
Others not too thrilled about the bridge include architect Joel Rico, who is the president of the Guild of Philippine Architects in Conservation. He is on record as saying that the structure could compromise and lead to the collapse of the Aduana Building. Better known as the Intendencia, this well-known landmark sits right next to where the bridge ends and suffers from having soft foundations. In Rico’s opinion, it could collapse within a year because of the impact of the vehicles passing through. The Heritage Conservation Society has also publicly opposed the project, while the Advocates for Heritage Preservation was not entirely against it but stated that the proposed design is too modern and that it should blend with the overall look of Old Manila.
The most serious opposition, however, comes from the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Philippines and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). ICOMOS is one of the three formal advisory bodies to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, and the group of conservation specialists and heritage experts has warned that San Agustin Church and three other churches around the Philippines may be delisted from the prestigious World Heritage List as a direct result of the bridge being built, as the structure will encroach on the church’s buffer zone.
San Agustin in Intramuros, Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Iloilo, Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Ilocos Sur and San Agustin in Ilocos Norte were all constructed by Augustinian friars and are all together known as the “Baroque Churches of the Philippines.” The four houses of worship were collectively declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, and if one of them gets dropped from the list, they are all goners. The buffer zone ICOMOS refers to practically includes the whole of Intramuros, as UNESCO sees these surroundings as essential components of the conservation strategy, and with the not-so-friendly Friendship Bridge ending slap-bang in that zone, trouble may be brewing.
In the interest of balance, we must also point out that there is one group that has given the bridge its backing. The Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry is supporting this project and also the controversial new Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge due to their supposedly positive impact on economic and social development. Naturally, an organization with ties to China would be excited about a project carried out by Chinese companies, but we doubt that many residents in the area will agree with the group’s assessment. The question really remains as to why this bridge is being built where it is, and also why anyone thought it would be a good idea to pump more traffic into one of the most precious parts of the nation’s capital.
Too many questions are still unanswered. We can only hope that this “gift” of friendship won’t turn sour in the end.