Connect to share and comment

Construction, and alleged corruption, in the Philippines

Take a trip down a key Filipino highway — if you can.

A laborer works on a highway bridge in Manila Nov. 14, 2008. The Philippine government has vowed to spend more on infrastructure and social services this year and in 2009. (John Javellana/Reuters)

MANILA — To call them potholes would be an understatement.

They’re more like craters, portions of the highway that seem to have imploded, eating up more than half of the road’s width. And for many years, they were the bane of the residents of Samar, a province in the central Philippines that is also one of the poorest in the country.

For these mostly impoverished Filipinos who live practically a few feet from the highway, the road was the center of their universe. It was where they congregated after a hard day’s work on the farm. They would drink liquor by the roadside, mingling with fellow farmers. The children would play on the highway, too, unmindful of the peril posed by trucks and other vehicles.

More importantly, the highway — part of the longest highway network in the eastern Philippines, which connects the three main islands of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao — had helped the folks of Samar survive. They used the pavement to dry their crops under the sun— mainly rice, corn and copra, or coconut meat, which is used for making oil.

So as the highway deteriorated over the years, the residents of Samar became as destitute as the road that had nurtured them for decades.

“Samar could no longer bear the condition of the national highway as it is full of potholes that traveling by land in the province is hazardous and a great burden for the commuting public,” stated a manifesto, which was written by officials from several villages in the province in February. “Concerned offices do not care about the agony of the riding public and the communities directly affected because of these roads.”

There had been countless theories offered as to why the highway in Samar – which runs from Calbayog City in the north down to the town of Calbiga — was in terrible shape.  The cement used was inferior in quality. The contractor scrimped on supplies. The provincial government simply didn’t care. And so on.