A new road in the Philippines spurs development

A new road in the Philippines spurs development

Leandro V. Coronel

A New Road in the Philippines Spurs Development

Aniceto Elvena recalled that the road had been narrow, rough and dusty. Some sections did not exist at all, while others were often submerged in flood waters during the rainy season, rendering them impassable. Today, the road on the western coast of Occidental Mindoro, Philippines, is still dusty. But it is an all-weather, gravel road that stretches for 170 kilometres–about 105 miles–from San Jose in the south to Mamburao, the provincial capital in the north.

The road is a component of the Philippine Government’s Rural Roads Improvement Programme, supported by a $62 million loan approved by the World Bank in the mid-1980s.

The San Jose-Mamburao Road has opened up economic and social opportunities for the people of Mindoro Island, located just below the southern tip of Luzon, the main Philippine island.

Mindoro is divided into two provinces, Occidental and Oriental Mindoro. San Jose, with a population of 80,000, is the major commercial and market centre in Occidental Mindoro. Mamburao has about 20,000 residents.

Before the road was built, contact within and between provinces was limited. Travel by boat was often the only means of transport between many communities. Today, farmers, fishermen and merchants in Mindoro are more often able to sell their produce and goods to one another.

Mr. Elvena, 67, has lived most of his life in the community of San Pedro in the town of Rizal, Occidental Mindoro. He is a retired schools supervisor and owns a few hectares of farm land.

“The new road has helped speed up development of our province. We farmers are able to sell our rice and other cash crops at better prices to more markets and in towns and communities we couldn’t reach before. With the opening of this expanded market, we are producing more to be able to meet demand’, he says.

Occidental Mindoro has an area of about 600,000 hectares, some 1.5 million acres, most of it agricultural land. Other crops grown in the area are bananas, mangoes, grapes, peanuts, tapioca and vegetables. Other economic activities include cattle raising and fish breeding.

“The farmers are producing so much more, they don’t know what to do with it’, exclaims Eugenio Manalo, Regional Director of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the national agency that built the road.

“Their warehouses and silos are so full the rice has to be stored in the open and even on the new highway, which was built in concrete in areas along or near the town centres. Occidental Mindoro has become the breadbasket of the the southern Tagalog region,’ Mr. Manalo says, referring to the area south of Manila, the capital of the Philippines.

Brimming with grain

A tour of communities along the highway confirms Mr. Manalo’s assertions. Farmers are indeed producing more and silos were brimming with grain. But the farmers added that another cause of the overflow is that the agency that buys their produce was temporarily unable to take all of the rice for lack of funds.

The new road enables farmers to explore new markets in more distant parts of the province, but it has also generated other benefits. More people have established homes along the highway, reducing the isolation of communities. These new clusters of homes have led to the construction of new schools, health facilities, churches, community meeting halls and playgrounds.

It is now cheaper to operate road vehicles and farmers now can hire truckers to move their produce. Agricultural inputs are delivered to farmers faster, in time for the planting season, resulting in increased yields and better quality crops. Agricultural extension workers are able to reach more farmers. More land is being tilled and more grain and other crops are being produced.

“Before, the rough and narrow path from San Jose to Mamburao took 14 hours to travel’, says Jose Borja, DPWH project manager. The trip now takes less than five hours, he states.

Improved livelihood

“The road has certainly improved our livelihood’, says Imelda Garcia, whose husband, Efren, is a farmer and grains trader, who also owns a rice mill. “It’s a lot easier to move the produce since they built the road’, she says. “But it’s still dusty’. “I wish they used cement all the way’.

Natividad Simbulan, the mayor of Mamburao says: “It is easier to communicate, and even meet, with my fellow public officials’. She is attending a seminar for local government officials in San Jose, 170 kilometres away from her bailwick. Most of the mayors attending had come from distant towns, two from island communities in the north.

The San Jose-Mamburao road project includes 10 bridges and four spillways and cost more than $17 million. Half of the financing came from the $62 million World Bank loan, which also supported similar projects in other parts of the Philippines. The national government paid the other half.

The project is nearly finished. A bridge over the Mompong River in the town of Sablayan, midway between San Jose and Mamburao, is the last component and is expected to be completed in 1987.

There are still problems with flooding in some areas, because of the many rivers in the province.

Tessie Santos, DPWH project coordinator, says that during the rainy season, there is a lot of water runoff because some mountains have hard surfaces with no vegetation to absorb the water. Excessive logging and slash-and-burn agriculture are also a problem.

DPWH officials say they are considering changes in their construction specifications and may build elevated bridges to replace the water spillways in certain areas. But to do so would add greatly to costs.

Consultants have executed feasibility studies for similar road projects in 22 other provinces, on the basis of which the Asian Development Bank in Manila agreed to provide financing for nine more provinces. In mid-1986, the World Bank approved a second loan of $82 million to support road improvement in 14 more provinces.

Implementation of a second road improvement project is being readied by the Government, the primary objective of which is to help raise the incomes of farmers by making it easier for them to market their goods. About 1,340 kilometres–some 830 miles– of rural roads will be rehabilitated or upgraded. New methods of road maintenance and labour-intensive construction will be stressed.

Community jobs

Branco Bjelogrlic, a World Bank project officer, points out that “the project will provide jobs for labourers from the communities, deemphasizing the use of heavy machinery whenever possible. This will also help the country save on foreign exchange because when you use more people, you use less oil, spare parts and machinery. Construction units could easily be organized to work on the project. With appropriate training, both men and women can be employed. This is one way of achieving community participation in development projects.’ Local workers will also be used to maintain the new roads.

The project supports the Government’s programme to speed up rural development and is in line with its focus on rural-based and labour-intensive projects and decentralization, says Amin Ramadan, another Bank official. Government efforts to give priority to economically isolated and depressed rural areas and improve incomes and employment there are reinforced, and improved levels of service and infrastructure development also support the private sector investments and contribute to the restoration of business confidence, he states.

Back in San Jose, Mayor Alvino Arevalo reported that the persistent problem of flooding in some communities must still be solved. “But overall, the new road has indeed been good for us. We even use the concrete surface to dry our harvested crops.’

He adds, with a smile: “Of course, vehicles have to make a detour when farmers use the road to dry their harvest. But that’s okay. That makes it a multipurpose project.’

Photo: Project Co-ordinator Tessie Santos with Mindoro farmers outside warehouse overflowing with rice. She explained that despite the new road, there were still problems with flooding in some areas.

COPYRIGHT 1987 United Nations Publications

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