Broad strokes

THE planned coastal highway from Victorias to Sum-ag in Bacolod is one of the grandest ideas to have emerged since the beginning of civilization in this island. It is an idea that had been broached about in the past but those were more in the realm of a dream than a possibility within one’s lifetime.

This broad stroke of three incumbent elected officials: Second District Congressman Alfredo Benitez, Bacolod Congressman Greg Gasataya and Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia has elicited praise as well as skepticism. Some consider it merely as a political gimmick but supporters point to the increasing number of projects that could only be thought of in the past but are now on track.

I refer to the economic highway that was planned by then Cong. Leonardia but scoffed at by his political rival as “imitation”. That was of course absurd because there are many projects and thinking of one does mean the thinker has a patent to it. Anyway people will always judge politicians by what they do or have done and not by what they rattled about.

The coastal highway is an ambitious project and can be influenced by many factors. For one, the three elected officials are well-entrenched in their turfs. This is important because continuity in office is vital for a project, particularly of this size and scope.

However, Rep. Benitez is on his last term. He will bow out from the House by 2019. He has not indicated his plans although some people think that he is a candidate for the Senate with the better chance of winning. In the event that the Heavens grant him that honor then the coastal road project will have a voice in the Upper House.

Cong. Gasataya is on his first germ – has eight more years in the House if he continues with his laudable performance for a neophyte. Indeed behind the soft voice and the inscrutable smile is a worker. Moreover, he has established his own turf. Any challenge is yet to be dictated by events but Gasataya has the best chance of reelection if the city is divided into two congressional districts, a plan that had been gestating since 2010.

It is time that the city is split into two districts. It is unfair that legislative districts with less than half of Bacolod’s over 600,000 voters is denied its just share of seats in the House.

The coastal highway is a grand project and that will require huge amount of funding. Will Congress appropriate the fund? There are international donors for projects of this size but there are also investors. How to tap them will be a test of the capacities of the three proponents.

In terms of topography the highway is not insurmountable. Modern technologies can easily handle this project. But as usual the question is the billions of pesos needed for its fruition.

The idea will have to undergo a series of studies – technical as well as financing and operation that would consider the returns to investments. This means that we will not yet get a concrete basis for conclusion whether the project is feasible or not. However, I believe that Congressmen Gasataya and Benitez and Mayor Leonardia are walking on solid grounds; after all there are more complex projects than this.

Skeptics are already smiling meaningfully at this “dream” labeling it as mere political gimmickry. Indeed, they have reason to scoff considering the planned bridges from Negros to Panay and to Cebu. These ideas are over half a century old but they remain a dream. How many times have we heard of foreign investors oozing with millions of dollars for these projects? Now we have nothing but silence.

There is therefore good reason to flout at the coastal road project. The attitude so far is “we’ll believe when we see it”. Understandable enough, but don’t you believe in miracles?

Take the case of the economic highway that then Congressman Leonardia said he was able to get approved. The political rivals sneered and made fun of the project but when they sense it was highly possible, the other camp started singing a different tune – “we had that idea earlier!” Now the work has begun.

Or take the case of the overpass that Cong. Gasataya said he would get. Rivals dismissed it until the DPWH started construction.

Surely the coastal road is grander but highly possible.

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