Phil-BRICS Strategic Studies Position Paper

What I heard is that the bridge is too low to enable barges carrying bridge parts for the NLEX-    SLEX connector skyway and other planned Pasig River bridges to pass through. If true, it is then   faulty planning. When the LRT bridge was being planned in the early ‘80s we in PCG were consulted for navigational clearance. I suggested an increase of 1 or 1.5 meters to allow barges supplying the Pilillla power plant to pass through. Anyway there is a need for CSW AND good media information.

Comm. Chuck Agustin (ret.)

The above is a full quote from retired Commodore Chuck Agustin in a Viber discussion on the issue of the present two-lane, simple steel structure Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge demolition and the construction of a new four-lane, fully concrete and steel bridge with higher clearance from the river surface.

One can see the problem presented by having the shallow clearance of the present Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge for passing barges and ships:

Present Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge

Here is what the new bridge will look like with heightened clearance from the river surface:


Envisioned Future Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge

Closure and demolition of the present bridge has been made a significant public issue by a well programmed and apparently well-funded public information campaign made through social media and subsequently in conventional print media. The broadcast media was the last to come up to drum up the issue with the emergence of the comments of CNN transport commentator James Deakin which was the source of the extensive criticism cited in the Viber discussion that Comm. Vic Agustin responded to.

Two original sources of the criticisms of the demolition of the present Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge started it all. First, an Internet site called Visor featuring the commentaries of a Franck Schuengel who claims to be 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.” His article entitled “Why rebuilding the Rockwell Bridge makes no sense” of September 24, 2018 claims to have had 84,725 views.

Setting aside the appeal to the emotion of this Mr. Schuengel, these are his main arguments which we quote directly:

1) On the Mandaluyong side, the bridge ends on Pantaleon Street and Barangka Drive, both roads that are already heaving with vehicles during rush hour. Sending more cars into this area will only make this bottleneck worse;

2) the crossings are paid for by China, but the money will go straight back to Chinese companies. And all that the residents of Metro Manila will seem to get in return is worse traffic. Doesn’t really sound like a worthwhile deal if you think about it, but what do we know?;

3) If we lowly motoring journalists were allowed to have some input into this affair, then building a second bridge next to this one might have been a better idea. This additional crossing should have been for pedestrians and cyclists only.

In response to the first item let us present a map of the vicinity of the bridge landing:

At the bottom one will see the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge and as it crosses the Pasig River it lands on E. Pantaleon, and Barangka Drive, and to the left are Sgt. Bumatay, Timog and numerous other streets crossing Barangka Drive West to East, while Barangka Drive continues to be expanded towards Nueve de Pebrero towards Edsa and various other routes.

Schuengel’s second point is the Chinese donation will be spent on Chinese contractors and only “worse traffic” is left for Metro Manila residents – Why, isn’t the new bridge in the Makati, Metro-Manila, Philippines? Did the Chinese take the bridge the donated money for and constructed back to Beijing? Isn’t it going to be Metro-Manila residents that will be using the bridge donated, constructed and install over the Pasig River for 120,000 Filipino vehicles to drive over?

On the idyllic proposal for a new bridge to be built for bicycles and pedestrians only, does Schuengel really believe bicycles and pedestrian crossing will solve the horrendous Gordian Knot Metro-Manila traffic has become. This problem is the reason why the Philippine government along with JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) came up with the traffic studies and formulated the plan for 15 heavy duty bridges to accommodate the burgeoning residential and business population of one of the largest metropolises in the World.

That being said, the latest announcement of the DPWH should provide further assurance that traffic build up will not be serious after the closure of the old bridge which has been postpone to January 19, 2019 as DPWH said, “’…we’ve decided to fix first all the alternate routes, clear them from any obstruction. Just yesterday, the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) said they will move it to January 19,’ spokesperson Celine Pialago told CNN”.

The second major sources of the criticism is a Facebook page called Currents PH which is a pure anti-Duterte site with almost daily anti-Duterte posts and frequently punctuated by anti-China posts. Here is a sample of their posts oozing with anti-Duterte and anti-China venom and nothing more. All of its arguments against the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge rehabilitation are taken from Mr. Shcuengel’s blog:

The partisan-geopolitical and even racist factor cannot be discounted in this campaign against the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge project as Schuengel, Currents PH and other dtractors never fail to mention the Chinese factor and all the attempts at misinforming and dis-informing the public about the project, i.e. that it is a loan and not a donation, that only China will profit (as we have stated, isn’t the bridge a real benefit for the Philippines?), etc.

The allegations that the Chinese companies have been banned by the World Bank deliberate misrepresents again the whole picture. This is the SCMP report on the ban, and it’s not only a handful (a dozen) of Chinese companies temporarily banned but almost 500 international companies with the U.K. having the most number involved in the temporary ban:

The China Roads and Bridges Corporation has filed appropriate legal action against the ban which was lifted by January 2017.

The Phil-BRICS Strategic Studies group issues this position paper to help clarify the issues and expose the malicious campaign launched by the parties identified here.