Bicol roads: Challenges, repairs, and quality concerns
By Manuel T. Ugalde
THE Department of Public Works and Highways Regional Office 5 has reported widening national roads to four concrete lanes over the past decade.
However, former Albay congressman and current Ligao City mayor Fernando Gonzales criticizes the term ‘widening,’ asserting it’s a mere improvement from two-lane to four-lane concreting on the minimum 20-meter primary and secondary national roads. Gonzales emphasizes the persisting issues of squatters hindering road improvement and unsafe conditions for motorists and pedestrians due to rampant obstructions.
Despite the DPWH claiming 70% completion of the four-lane highway roads in Bicol’s mainland provinces, police authorities note high road accidents due to obstructions. Local government executives express dissatisfaction, attributing road clearance successes to local efforts rather than DPWH initiatives.
In February 2023, Wenfredo Firme, a Camarines Sur engineer, wrote an open letter revealing poor road quality in Bicol, citing issues like cracks and potholes emerging within a year of completion. The engineer contrasts this with other regions like Palawan, Visayas, and Mindanao, where foreign-funded projects experience fewer issues in the first decade post-completion.
DPWH Regional Director Virgilio Eduarte states that, except for Bicol islands Masbate and Catanduanes, road concreting in the mainland regions—Sorsogon, Albay, Camarines Sur, and Camarines Norte—has reached 70% completion in widening to four lanes.
To expedite the program, district engineering offices have been authorized 70% of the annual budget for road concrete widening, including bridges.
When questioned about Firme’s criticisms on Bicol’s road quality, Eduarte refrained from commenting, citing his relatively short tenure in Bicol. He emphasized his office’s commitment to quality and highlighted the Text Brigade initiative to address road obstructions promptly, encouraging citizens to report issues via text messages.
Despite Bicol DPWH receiving top performance ratings, some insiders question this accolade in light of a Camarines Sur engineer’s open letter highlighting substandard roads. No response from Bicol DPWH officials or lawmakers has challenged Firme’s claims.
A retired DPWH official from Albay asserted stability in roads built during the Marcos era, expressing concern that modern improvements in Bicol might compromise standards due to corruption and political interference.
Retired Professor Salvador Flor of Legazpi City, a Human Rights Commission official, echoed Firme’s concerns about Bicol roads. He pointed out ongoing repair work on recently completed bridges like Lidong and Bonga, suspecting potential issues deliberately concealed from public view. Flor questioned the extent of damage and highlighted the unusual repair activity.
Albay 1st District Engineer Rainero Zerda confirmed repair work on Lidong and Bonga Bridges but clarified it’s focused on road approaches rather than the bridges themselves. Zerda did not disclose the extent of the damage, mentioning ongoing expansion for the 10-meter Bonga Bridge and continuing work on Lidong Bridge approaches.