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It’s not too late to reconsider the Rockwell Bridge project

The date of closure has now been moved to January 19

The closure of Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge has just been pushed back by another week. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Following the latest round of media coverage and public outcries about the impending closure of the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge, we were somewhat hopeful that the Department of Public Works and Highways and other parties involved in the project would at the very least take some of the concerns onboard and maybe even consider changes to what seemed to be a venture that had been well intended but poorly planned. Sadly, it appears we’re in no such luck. The powers-that-be are still hell-bent on closing the bridge—they merely moved the date to January 19—and the builders are already warming up their steel-cutting torches. Is it all too late to talk some sense into whoever can stop this madness?

Metro Manila motorists got a seven-day reprieve. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

One of the statements that were issued via the DPWH Facebook page—in which the agency called the new bridge design “iconic”—seems to have since been deleted, possibly because the public feedback to it in the comments section wasn’t in line with expectations. The PR piece published in its place now features glossy pictures and glowing statements to show just how lovely an undertaking this plan apparently is. Clearly, the government is desperate to put a positive spin on a construction project that will bring more than two years of added hell to already stressed commuters. But it appears that officials have been so busy smiling for the cameras, they haven’t had time to address any of the criticisms directed at the demolition and the rebuilding of this crucial roadway.

To be fair, these men likely believe they are doing the country a lot of good. Who knows, really? PHOTO FROM DPWH

In the earlier statement, a few sentences at least referred to planned road-widening works on both sides of the bridge in an effort to accommodate the increase in traffic when the crossing expands from two to four lanes. There is no talk of any of this now, and we suspect this is because no real plans for this exist yet. It was a mere afterthought, tacked on to appease the public, but you just need to take one look at a map to see that the area around Pantaleon Street in Mandaluyong is highly built up, and roads there cannot simply be widened on a whim. The people behind this project know full well that they are creating a massive new bottleneck and seem to be sticking their heads in the sand in the hope that nobody will notice.

This bridge project is pushing through no matter how vigorously we all oppose it. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Then, of course, there is the fact that the start of the project has been moved again by a week—from the 12th to the 19th of January. We have to ask: How are dates and deadlines for a crucial project like this decided? Surely, it cannot be that a billion-peso undertaking carrying a far-reaching economic impact is moved around and rescheduled at the last minute. If they are this casual about the start of the work, what about the proposed finishing date? You don’t need to be a city planner to see that this doesn’t feel right. What also seems odd is the total silence from the official side with regard to the concerns about the contractor used in the project, a Chinese firm that was blacklisted by the World Bank in the past.

Who are we to question the wisdom of this? PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and this project is an example of that aphorism. Nobody doubts that the city needs better infrastructure to cope with rising traffic levels, but there are so many things unexplained or odd about the Rockwell Bridge venture, and so many better ways to go about it, that it is everyone’s rightful and serious duty to point them out. We all want to spend less time in traffic, and there is not a single soul in Metro Manila who would oppose sensible measures that lead to a better and more sustainable traffic situation for all of us. Ripping up and rebuilding the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge the way it is being proposed right now simply makes no sense, no matter how many press releases the government crafts around it.

Good luck passing through starting next week. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

The date of the closure is fast approaching, but you can still make your voice heard by heading to the DPWH Facebook page and commenting on the issue, or by contacting your local representative in Congress and asking for the project to be reviewed. Keep in mind that once completed, the consequences of this scheme will be with us for many years to come. The people of this megalopolis deserve a lot better than a rushed river crossing that seems to be based on political pressure rather than real-life requirements. Let’s hope the authorities realize this and agree to work on a solution that will keep their Chinese connections and Metro Manila commuters equally happy. It’s not too late to make that happen.

NOTE: In the interest of transparency, we wish to share that a PR agency specializing in crisis management initially approached us and offered to pay for an article calling out the project. We refused because said payment was both unnecessary (we shared the same sentiment) and wrong (we wouldn’t foist upon our readers a sponsored article we didn’t believe in). During our meeting with the PR agency, we learned that the company’s owner resides around the affected area. We told them to keep their money.

Frank Schuengel

Frank is a German e-commerce executive who loves his wife, a Filipina, so much he decided to base himself in Manila. He has interesting thoughts on Philippine motoring. He writes the aptly named ‘Frankly’ column.