Legarda assures fellow senators Chinese grant for new bridge has ‘no strings attached’

Published January 14, 2019, 6:33 PM

by Francine Ciasico

By Mario Casayuran

A simple smile and a handshake by Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Mark Villar expressed the Philippine government’s gratitude to China’s P1.2 billion grant for the rehabilitation of an old bridge in Makati city.

Senator Loren Legarda (Facebook / MANILA BULLETIN)
Senator Loren Legarda
(Facebook / MANILA BULLETIN)

This was the reply of Senator Loren Legarda, chairwoman of the Senate finance committee, to a query of Senator Grace Poe on how the government would reciprocate China’s “unconditional” grant of P1.2 billion for the rehabilitation of the Estrella-Pantaleon bridge.

‘’No strings attached,’’ Legarda stressed.

Reminded by Poe that both of them have been politicians in the Senate for years, Legarda lightened the mood at the Senate session hall by stating that her answer was based on her observation that Villar’s mother, Senator Cynthia A. Villar, was close to her son.

Legarda stressed that there was a pressing need to replace the present bridge because its original carrying capacity of 22,000 persons had grown to 35,000 persons daily.

Replying why the bridge has to be replaced at all with such a huge price tag of P1.2 billion, Legarda said the bridge that will replace it would be designed to resist earthquakes, among others.

She recalled that the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has recommended that structures to be built in the area should be able to counter intensity-8 quakes since the location of the bridge is on the West Valley Fault.

Poe was not convinced that there was a need to rehabilitate the Estrella-Pantaleon bridge what with the engineers’ 30-month estimated construction period.

This same long construction period was the same time expended in the construction of a recent Cebu airport, she added.

Legarda pointed out that a National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) study showed that the bridge project internal rate of return was 16 percent.

On the issue of national security, Poe also said there was a need for the Department of National Defense (DND) to check the track records of the technical personnel and laborers of the Chinese construction firm, China Communications and Construction Corporation (CCCC), that will rehabilitate the old bridge.

CCCC “was also banned by the World Bank in 2009 for anomalies related to several multi-billion-peso Philippine road projects it had funded,” Poe said.

“This is a case of a bridge we may not need, whose construction will inconvenience many for a long time, and is being built by a company who after being banned by the World Bank for bungling a road project here became part of the massive land reclamation in the West Philippine Sea,” Poe said.

Poe said officials must answer the observation shared by many groups that the advantages of having a four-lane bridge are cancelled when both ends lead to two-lane roads.

“Will this not just create a bottleneck?” she asked.

But what Poe could not take was that the Philippines had to accept the contractor chosen by China and not by the Philippines which has able construction companies to undertake the project.

“To add insult to injury,” the Chinese contractor, Poe said, is the same state-owned firm assigned to reclaim land in the West Philippine Sea.

The firm, China Communications and Construction Corp. “was also banned by the World Bank in 2009 for anomalies related to several multi-billion-peso Philippine road projects it had funded,” Poe said.

“This is a case of a bridge we may not need, whose construction will inconvenience many for a long time, and is being built by a company who after being banned by the World Bank for bungling a road project here became part of the massive land reclamation in the West Philippine Sea,” Poe said.

Legarda replied that the World Bank has lifted the eight-year ban on the Chinese firm which built projects funded by other financial institutions.

Poe maintained that the Chinese firm is using the Philippines as a ‘’reference point’’ to gain back its reputation.

‘’Is there any other Chinese contractor to replace CCCC?. I have my misgivings for this company is doing relocation works at the West Philippine Sea?’’ she added.

Legarda admitted that ‘’this is a revelation to me.’’

Poe said the DPWH must answer the observation shared by many groups that the advantages of having a four-lane bridge are cancelled when both ends lead to two-lane roads.

“Will this not just create a bottleneck?” she asked.

 
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