The Friendship Bridge or the submarine power cable?

The news that Congressman Eulogio Rodriguez discussed with DPWH Secretary Manuel Bonoan a renewed push for the construction of the Friendship Bridge that would link Catanduanes to mainland Bicol created a stir on social media.

While local officials, including some on the other side of the political fence, lent the proposed bridge project support, there were some who expressed skepticism that it would gain headway, much more the needed gargantuan funding by Catanduanes standards.

Let us roll back the years to 2015, when the project got the endorsement of the Bicol Regional Development Council.

In June of that year, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) received a US$1.1 million funding from the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) to conduct the feasibility study on the project which was proposed by former Gov. Araceli Wong.

The DPWH regional office subsequently bid out the contract for the FS, with no less than Atty. Oliver Rodulfo himself as chair of the Bids and Awards Committee.

There is no word as to the findings and recommendations in the study, which is presumably with the regional office.

But a search of the internet turned up a possible call for funding from international lenders like the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

The brief info states that the “Camarines-Catanduanes Friendship Bridge project involves the construction of a 10.7km two-lane bridge,” with a proposed funding of US$438 million project covering the construction of roadbeds, road separators, culverts and related infrastructure, and the installation of lights and signaling systems.

“Construction is expected to commence in 2020 and is scheduled for completion in 2023,” said the DPWH.

Seven years ago, the exchange rate between the Philippine peso and the US dollar was about P45 to one US dollar.

Thus, at that time, it would have cost the national government roughly P20 billion to construct the project had it gotten the needed funding.

Considering the project implementation time frame as apparently recommended by the study, the construction period would have run smack into the coronavirus pandemic’s quarantine restrictions, causing delay and possibly cancellation as the government needed all its available resources to finance the COVID-19 “ayuda” and the procurement of face masks and vaccines.

Rep. Rodriguez’s zeal for the Friendship Bridge project is apparently being driven by a desire to be seen as different from his unlucky predecessor who backed a different kind of link between the Happy Island and the mainland: a submarine power cable project that would ensure reliable and cheap electricity to long-suffering consumers.

Right after winning, the solon was quoted in a news report as saying that he thinks that the submarine power cable project is “not timely.”

He disclosed that what he intends to do is talk to the stakeholders in the power industry, FICELCO and its only supplier (SUWECO), to find out what really is the problem.

Countless discussions and meetings between such stakeholders have been staged in the past, producing only copious amounts of saliva, band-aid solutions and political grandstanding.

Unfortunately for the neophyte congressman, his assessment of Hector Sanchez’s initiative is not being shared by the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), which has already filed a petition with the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) seeking provisional authority to proceed with the submarine cable project so it could complete the same in two short years, or before the new congressman’s term is over.

In fact, the ERC has already scheduled virtual hearings on the case this Aug. 16 and 23, 2022.

So what happens now with the Friendship Bridge?

At the current foreign exchange rate, the Friendship Bridge project already costs around P24 billion, not considering the spiraling cost of materials like cement and steel bars.

Given the state of the Philippine economy and the economies of scale, it would be tabled in favor of the more appealing Matnog to Samar railway bridge link that would serve a lot more people and move more vehicles and products across the country.

So which is the better option for the BBM administration?

Your guess might be as good as mine.

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