‘Sinking’ Iloilo flyover and Fukuoka sinkhole

By Alex P. Vidal

“Infrastructure is much more important than architecture.”— Rem Koolhaas

NOW that the Iloilo Dinagyang Festival 2023 is history, let’s revert to the most controversial topic the Ilonggos love to discuss and loathe for a good reason these past months: the scandal-ridden Iloilo flyover project.

Because there was no assurance from his regional subordinates and, perhaps, the contractor of the P680-million project, Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Manuel Bonoan assured the Ilonggos the flyover in Ungka, Pavia would be opened “before the Dinagyang (Festival) 2024.”

The right word should be “reopened” since it was already available for traffic and motorists for several days—only to be closed on September 18, 2022 because it was “sinking.”

Other than that, Bonoan can’t do or promise anything.

Whether the much-verbally defiled flyover project, pushed by former Senator Franklin Drilon before his retirement from politics, would be permanently feckless and inutile didn’t matter as long as public rage was mitigated with Bonoan’s see-you-before-the-Dinagyang-2024 assurance.

Hyperbole.

He can’t (in fact, he can but with a big risk and perplexity) compel his regional subordinates and the contractor to do the impossible (“refund” the taxpayers or build a better and scandal-free flyover to replace the doomed structure) just to please the suspicious and impatient public.

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Bonoan must’ve realized the spine-chilling harm the project had caused the taxpayers and no immediate remedy was in sight given the degree of its damage and the looming turmoil, thus he needed to act and speak like a politician to cushion the public indignation.

If there is smoke, there is fire. If it is “sinking” that means something is fundamentally not good in as far as construction is concerned.

Bonoan couldn’t directly admit in public there was ineptitude and negligence in the project; he couldn’t openly lash at those responsible of giving the DPWH headache and humiliation.

But he had the nerve to assure the public as if everything was OK and picked the Dinagyang Festival 2024 as timeline for the grand resurrection.

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We don’t have the engineering and structural expertise, but we can conclude as ordinary observers that our technology, resourcefulness,  and virtuosity in public works, especially in the repairs, restoration and swiftness pale in comparison to other Asian neighbors like Japan.

When it comes to public construction workmanship and inefficiency, we are oceans apart from Japan, among other neighboring countries.

After the Iloilo flyover’s structural integrity was put into a big question mark during the initial check and inspection last year, everything else seemed to fall into pieces.

It had been closed to the motorists only days after its opening and the reopening has been held in abeyance indefinitely.

In Fukuoka, Japan six years ago, a 30-meter sinkhole that opened up outside a busy railway station and threatened to topple nearby buildings, was repaired in only 48 hours after workers had toiled around the clocks.

The badly damaged road reopened to traffic and pedestrians early after two days when local officials declared the repaired stretch safe.

It was reported that the weeklong rush to reopen the busy stretch of road included repairs to a sewage pipe and replacing traffic lights and utility poles that were swallowed when the sinkhole opened up shortly after five o’clock in the morning.

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The incident reportedly caused power cuts and disrupted phone signals, and gas and water supplies, but there were no reports of injuries.

The mayor of Fukuoka, Soichiro Takashima, said the affected ground was now 30 times stronger than before, adding that a panel of experts would be set up to establish the cause of the cave-in.

Local media reports said the 30m by 27m sinkhole, which was 15 meters deep, was caused by construction work on an extension to an underground line.

The Fukuoka workers, who filled the hole with 6,200 cubic meters of sand and cement, drew praise on social media. One person tweeted: “I’m surprised the road reopened in a week!” Another said: “Impressive. That was fast.”

“The astonishing speed of the repair work brought back memories of the efforts to reopen roads that were badly damaged by the March 2011 triple disaster,” the UK-based The Guardian reported on November 15, 2016.

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)

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