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CERVANTES, Ilocos Sur—Francisca Aluaro, 69, was a witness to how residents of Barangay Aluling here would brave rampaging waters each time they crossed the Abra River in the 1970s.
Aluaro had also seen all modes of transport as residents crossed between this town and Tadian town in Mt. Province before the Aluling Bridge was finally constructed.
She said people first used “bangsal” or water raft to navigate the river. Then came the “galong-galong” or wooden box similar to the cable car where a road worker posted on opposite ends of the river would pull the wooden ride.
“During those days, four people could be accommodated in this wooden box and we were transported for free by government workers,” she said.
Transport further improved when officials put up a foot bridge so residents could trade products to the neighboring provinces of Benguet and La Union.
After nearly four decades and six presidents, Cervantes residents finally saw the bridge open on Thursday. It was under President Aquino’s term that the 180-meter Aluling Bridge was completed after 35 years of work since 1978 when the project was conceptualized.
The structure earned the moniker “longest bridge in the Philippines” because of the years it took for the project to be completed.
Mr. Aquino, who was originally set to open the bridge on Thursday, was represented by his sister, Viel Aquino-Dee. In a statement sent through text before the event started, Undersecretary Abigail Valte said the President was unable to attend as “he was feeling under the weather.”
Dee, accompanied by Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, instead represented the President.
In the speech read by his sister, Mr. Aquino said the long wait for Ilocanos had ended. “Sa wakas, tapos na po ang paghihintay at pagtitiis ng mga taga-Cervantes. Nalpas met laengen, Apo (It is finally finished),” he said.
Mr. Aquino said residents would “no longer dance with death each time they crossed the Abra River.”
In more than 30 years, people have been moving and trading with great difficulty even though Cervantes is only 6 kilometers away from Tadian town.
“Products, which could have been sold fresh, would turn wilted or spoiled upon reaching the other end [of the river],”
Mr. Aquino said.
He said tourists would now be encouraged to go to Cervantes and visit tourist spots such as the Gambang Falls and the Yamashita Cave.
He said the bridge took more than 30 years to finish because of neglect by those who were in power.
The Aluling Bridge was among the completed infrastructure projects that the
President presented during his State of the Nation Address last month.
Initial construction began in 1978 as a five-span reinforced concrete deck girder-type bridge that was funded on a multiyear basis by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
In 1990, however, the bridge was damaged by floods. In 1999, the DPWH restarted work with a plan to construct the bridge on another portion of the Abra River.
The bridge was finally completed on March 25 this year.
DPWH officials said the bridge allowed faster and safer transport of people and goods between the Ilocos and the Cordillera regions.
Once the bridge is opened, more than 1,000 motorists are expected to ply the stretch with a reduced travel time of
30 minutes between Cervantes and Tadian. Before the bridge was completed, motorists used to negotiate the route in an hour.
The bridge will enable faster trading of farm, fish and quarry products for residents in downstream towns of Ilocos Sur and neighboring provinces of La Union, Benguet and Mt. Province.
Filipinos conquer new territory: Benham Rise
‘It felt a lot like what Magellan felt,’ says the leader of the team exploring this underwater plateau bigger than Luzon
MANILA, Philippines – While China blocks the Philippines from reaching disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), a group of Filipinos conquered the virgin, crystal-clear, and coral-rich depths of the newest part of their country.
For the first time, Filipinos reached the shallowest portion of Benham Rise, the underwater plateau off the coast of Aurora that the Philippines fought for – and won – before the United Nations (UN). (READ: Benham Rise: PH’s new territory off Aurora)
he leader of the Department of Science and Technology’s Benham Rise Program, Dr Cesar Villanoy, said the expedition was like the one by Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese explorer who discovered the Philippines for Westerners in 1521.
GOVERNMENT-FUNDED. The research team boards a vessel owned by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. Photo courtesy of Dr Gil Jacinto/
“It felt a lot like what Magellan felt. It was exploring. Being able to touch Benham’s bottom was very exciting for many of us,” said Villanoy, a professor at the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI), in an interview with Rappler.
Bigger than the Philippines’ biggest island, Luzon, the 13-million-hectare Benham Rise is now part of the Philippines’ continental shelf – an underwater area rich in resources such as minerals and natural gas.
While most of it remains unexplored, Benham Rise is believed to contain steel-producing minerals and natural gas, which the Philippines can even export.
UNDERWATER PLATEAU. Found near Aurora, the 13-million-hectare Benham Rise is part of the Philippines’ continental shelf. Screen grab from a document the Philippines submitted to UN UNDERWATER PLATEAU. Found near Aurora, the 13-million-hectare Benham Rise is part of the Philippines’ continental shelf. Screen grab from a document the Philippines submitted to UN
The UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf approved the Philippines’ undisputed claim to Benham Rise on April 12, 2012.
This is the Philippines’ first validated claim under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which the Philippines also invokes in its historic case against China.
It took two years after this for Filipinos to dive into Benham Bank, the underwater plateau’s shallowest portion that is 50 meters deep.
Their mission: to see if the Benham Bank, as well as the waters around it, is “biologically productive.”
Biological productivity, Villanoy said, essentially points to the water’s capacity to support organisms.
IN ACTION. The team is about to transfer these UP-labeled rubber boats to another dive site. Photo courtesy of Dr Gil Jacinto/UP-MSIIN ACTION. The team is about to transfer these UP-labeled rubber boats to another dive site. Photo courtesy of Dr Gil Jacinto/UP-MSI
For this unprecedented project, a team of 28 researchers and divers embarked on a two-day journey to Benham Rise on May 3. They boarded a research vessel owned by the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
Villanoy and the leader for this survey, Dr Hildie Nacorda of the UP Los Baños School of Environmental Science and Management (UPLB-SESAM), spearheaded the activity. Researchers from the UP-MSI, BFAR, UPLB-SESAM and Institute of Biological Sciences, UP Mindanao, UP Baguio, and Xavier University, as well as students from the Ateneo de Manila University and UP-MSI, joined the risky trip.
Using a GoPro
Their “main concern,” Villanoy said, involved the depth of the sea.
The 50-meter-deep Benham Bank, after all, goes “beyond the normal depths for scuba diving,” which is around 30 meters.
The team had to assess the dive site first. From their ship they lowered, using weights, a GoPro mini-camera into the sea. To this they attached a dive computer, which measures the depth of the sea, to help ensure the divers’ safety.
MINI-CAMERAS. Using weights (right), researchers place a GoPro mini-camera (left) under the sea, along with a dive computer. Photo courtesy of Dr Gil Jacinto/
They didn’t even know if the GoPro would make it; they thought it could take a depth of only around 40 meters. (It turned out the GoPro they used could take a 60-meter depth, but Villanoy learned this after their trip.)
“The first time, it was a risk we took. But when we saw it could be done, we became more confident,” he said.
They did their first dive in the morning of May 6. Two of their most experienced divers did it.
Holding on to a line anchored on their ship, the divers braved the strong currents and dove 50 meters deep. They stayed at that depth for only 5 minutes. Then, for the next 30 minutes, the divers slowly ascended back to the surface.
They did the dives every other day.
In between, the team collected water samples to analyze nutrients, among others.
IN BETWEEN DIVES. The team uses automated water samplers to collect water samples underwater. Photo courtesy of Dr Gil Jacinto/UP-MSIIN BETWEEN DIVES. The team uses automated water samplers to collect water samples underwater. Photo courtesy of Dr Gil Jacinto/UP-MSI
This expedition, which lasted from May 6 to May 16, yielded never-before-seen videos and photos.
“We were surprised at how extensive the corals are. But surprisingly, the fish are few. So there are many corals, few fish…. We were also surprised about the clarity of the water. It was very clear from the surface; you could see the bottom, at 180 feet,” Villanoy said in a mix of English and Filipino.
(Watch the underwater video courtesy of UPLB-SESAM’s Dr Hildie Nacorda below)
While he has seen many other seas, Villanoy, who holds a doctorate in physical oceanography from the University of Sydney, said the area is definitely unique.
He said it is, after all, the deepest that Filipino divers have explored in Philippine seas. “We don’t know much about the deeper areas in the Philippines.”
There is much more to explore.
Villanoy explained the team did 5 dives only for around 5 minutes each, at least in the lowest part they reached – a total of around 25 minutes.
To begin with, the 50-meter-deep site they explored isn’t even one-fifth of the plateau’s depth.
DEEP SEA. This graphic, based on a sketch by UP’s Dr Cesar Villanoy (inset: original sketch), shows the depths that divers haven’t reached. Graphic by Nico VillareteDEEP SEA. This graphic, based on a sketch by UP’s Dr Cesar Villanoy (inset: original sketch), shows the depths that divers haven’t reached. Graphic by Nico Villarete
Villanoy said the main plateau from which the Benham Bank protrudes is 3,000 meters deep. The depth of the sea floor is 5,000 meters.
It will “definitely take several years” to complete a more substantial study.
“Going out to these deep water areas is very expensive, and you need specialized equipment and specialized people to be able to study those areas. Maybe the government should also support marine research even more,” Villanoy said.
Since they’re “barely scratching the surface,” the scientist said it could be much richer in “fisheries and geological resources.”
MORE FISH HERE? Divers see tuna in the waters surrounding Benham Bank. Photo courtesy of Dr Hildie Nacorda/UPLB-SESAMMORE FISH HERE? Divers see tuna in the waters surrounding Benham Bank. Photo courtesy of Dr Hildie Nacorda/UPLB-SESAM
On the other side of the Philippines, China claims the same things. Benham Rise is out of China’s reach.
SOURCE: Philippines Star
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 3) — MANILA, Philippines — The domestic economy expanded by 6.9 percent during the first quarter of the year, the penultimate quarter under the Aquino administration, the Philippine Statistics Authority announced Thursday.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Emmanuel Esguerra said the Philippines is the fastest-growing economy among 11 selected Asian economies in the first quarter of the year, outpacing expansions in China (6.7 percent), Vietnam (5.5 percent), Indonesia (4.9) and Malaysia 4.2 percent).
“We are pleased to be turning over a strong and stable economy onto the next administration. We have achieved significant socioeconomic progress over the last five years with the return of political and economic stability, which we hope the incoming administration will build on,” Esguerra said, referring to the incoming government of presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte.
SAN PEDRO CITY—Jerald Polintan, 14, breathed the cool mountain breeze 664 meters above sea level as he tried to paint in his mind the blue skies, the lush greenery and the puffy clouds that surrounded him as he sat atop Mount Pico de Loro.
His father, Jong, 47, was beside him diligently describing the vast forests, sky and mountain ranges that lay before them.
Jong, who runs a canteen in Cagayan Valley, said he’s thankful that Jerald was born with a vivid imagination that made it easier for Jerald, who was born prematurely and blind, to see the world.
Scaling Pico de Loro was a feat for father and son who traveled from Santiago City in Cagayan Valley to join the hiking event for the blind on April 28.
With hiking sticks in one hand and the other hand clinging to guides, nine blind and first-time trekkers completed the three-hour hike to Pico de Loro in the town of Maragondon in Cavite province.
‘Sharing the vision’
The hike, aptly dubbed “Zero Visibility: Sharing the Vision,” was put together by Dr. Gideon Lasco, fellow hiker Simon Adriano of Nomad Terra Crawlers and the groups Parent Advocates of Visually Impaired Children and Resources for the Blind Inc.
“They have lost their sight, but not their vision,” said Lasco, the man behind the blog “Pinoy Mountaineer.”
Climbing Mount Pico de Loro was Jerald’s idea, Jong said.
“Ever since, we let him explore like normal kids do. We don’t keep him inside the house just because of his disability,” Jong said in a recent phone interview.
Jerald attends a regular school in Cagayan Valley. He also participates in long jump and hundred-meter dash competitions in the Cagayan Valley Regional Athletic Association.
“Contrary to popular belief, outdoor recreation is actually possible for people with visual impairment,” said Lasco, a medical anthropologist.
Blind conquers Everest
He said blind hiking may be unheard of in the Philippines although similar activities are being held in other countries. He cited, for instance, American Erik Weihenmayer, who made history by being the first blind mountaineer to conquer Mount Everest in 2001.
On the trail, the blind hikers used their other senses to appreciate the beauty of Pico de Loro.
“They could tell the birds by their sound, feel the rocks or the texture of the trees,” Lasco said.
He noted that the blind also have a great sense of balance, even on steep parts of the mountain.
Like most hikers, they, too, have their pictures and selfies taken on the summit with the towering rock, popularly called the monolith, protruding in the background.
Dr. Allan Larona, an ophthalmologist who also joined the hike, said the activity brought a different kind of healing that uplifts and empowers.
“Mountains are for everyone and they can inspire us to overcome our limitations,” Lasco said.
Lasco also organized an “amputee climb” to Mt. Batulao in Nasugbu, Batangas, in 2009. Hikers wearing prosthetics scaled Batulao, which stood 800 masl.
In October 2015, Lasco led the “Climb with Kids” to Mt. Manabu (760 masl) in Santo Tomas, Batangas, with four children and their parents. On their way up, the children were taught to plant tree seedlings and pick up thrash, which helped instill in them the importance of environmental conservation.
Lasco said his group plans to conduct more hiking activities for the blind, this time with Luzon’s highest peak, Mount Pulag (2,922 masl), as their next destination.
Lasco also said he hopes to build the blind participants’ confidence and open people’s eyes to the vast opportunities that lie ahead of the visually impaired.
“Most hikers would say they climb mountains for the rare views on the top. But to Jerald, it was more than what the eyes could see,” Jong said.