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An artist's impression of the 4.61 billion peso (US$90.8 million) Chinese friendship bridge proposed for Manila's Chinatown district of Binondo. Photo: Handout

‘We need it like we need a hole in our head’: Chinese friendship bridge in Manila not so popular with the locals

The US$90.8 million structure has been plagued by delays and is planned to sit within 150 metres of two other traffic access points

Construction of an friendship bridge gifted to Manila by the Chinese government to ease traffic congestion has been delayed yet again, raising questions about the project’s necessity and community impact.

Groundbreaking for the four-lane steel bridge was initially scheduled for September last year, but was pushed back to November to coincide with a visit from President Xi Jinping. The ceremony was again cancelled, however, when Xi sidestepped the Philippines for the Apec summit in Vietnam and sent Premier Li Keqiang instead.

More recently, the Philippines’ Department of Public Works and Highways announced that the groundbreaking would be held by March, but gave no definite date.

The 4.61 billion peso (US$90.8 million) project’s delays have given volume to critics who suggest the bridge is a waste of time and resources. Intended to ease traffic in Manila’s Chinatown district of Binondo and serve as a symbol of friendship, the planned structure would sit within 150 metres of two other access points.

Which heritage building are you going to cut through? The old immigration building or national archives in Intramuros?
Teresita Ang-See

“I questioned why we are putting up the bridge,” said Teresita Ang-See in two forums late last year. “We need that bridge like we need a hole in our head. It will not decongest traffic because that’s not the problem.”

Ang-See is a prominent community leader who co-founded the Filipino-Chinese civil society group Kaisa.

In one forum attended by National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) director general Ernesto Pernia, Ang-See and a Binondo resident who identified himself as an engineer pointed out that Jones Bridge and Del Pan Bridge were both near the new structure’s planned site.

“They could not answer us,” she said, adding that NEDA responded by saying it was “a priority project” and “had already been vetted by experts”.

She said she tried to explain that another problem with the location was access, as it requires road users to first pass through the narrow streets of the walled city of Intramuros, a major heritage site.

“Which heritage building are you going to cut through?” she asked. “The old immigration building or national archives in Intramuros? In Binondo, are you going to remove the Federation of the Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce building?”

Ang-See suggested a foot bridge and a flood control programme would be more useful to the area, which she said is sinking because of construction.

Meanwhile, a Department of Public Works and Highways official confirmed the bridge project would continue, saying it was unaware of Ang-See’s complaints.

“As far as we know, it’s a go,” said Karen Jimeno, public works undersecretary for legal affairs and priority projects.

The new Binondo bridge, along with the widening of the existing Pantaleon-Estrella bridge to the financial district of Makati, was first announced during the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing last May.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Critics of Chinese friendship bridge in Manila renew attack