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MANILA, Philippines – Months after the firm of architect Felino “Jun” Palafox Jr. denied working for San Miguel Corporation’s (SMC) planned Pasig River Expressway (PAREX), Palafox ended up being onboarded for the project.
At a virtual public hearing by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB), Palafox said on Friday, March 25, that his firm Palafox Associates was finally tapped by SMC. They were onboarded about three months ago.
SMC also confirmed this in a statement on Friday.
In September 2021, Palafox Associates denied working with SMC on the project, saying that there was no deal signed yet. SMC president Ramon Ang later said that “forces critical of PAREX” were trying to influence the architect not to take on the project.
PAREX has been widely slammed by several groups over the threat of the project’s negative impacts on public mobility, heritage, environment, and public health. In 2021, SMC said that they want Palafox to be part of the project to “make PAREX right.”
On Friday, Palafox was asked if it would have been better if his own vision of Pasig River development would be pushed rather than “an expressway of massive concrete.”
Palafox resigned to it being private sector money, then added: “If I were San Miguel as a developer, I would spend that P94 billion to buy 8,000 hectares of idle land in the Philippines. This PAREX – they may not even be able to recover their investment for 20 years. Go real estate in seven years, you can recover it.”
While Palafox said he’s one with mobility advocates in pushing for bikeable cities, the architect did not exactly agree with the position that expressways could bring additional congestion when built.
He justified this by saying that there was still a “missing link” for the eastern and western parts of Metro Manila.
“It’s not just induced demand – it’s unmet demand.… The transportation network…is as strong as the weakest link. The East-West Transportation corridor – it’s not just the weakling. It’s the missing link,” said Palafox.
Transport economists have long warned of induced demand, where a newly built road “attracts” more motorists. Traffic congestion is reduced but only temporarily.
Instead of building new roads, advocates are pushing for better mobility infrastructure that encourages walking and biking, aside from more efficient public transportation.
Advocates on Friday, however, wanted the public hearing to be postponed, with some pointing out that the public scoping for the project needs to be updated following revisions on the project.
“If you compare the alignment of PAREX at public scoping versus the alignment presented in the EIA (environmental impact assessment) report, about 4 kilometers out of the 19.4 kilometers is different. This is 20% of the alignment. Stakeholders along that 4 kilometers were not properly notified and informed. They have been excluded in the EIA assessment,” said Move As One convenor Robert Siy.
Some advocates “walked out” of the public hearing as the DENR-EMB temporarily disabled some of the stakeholders’ access to the chat function. Some of them, Siy included, had to write on paper or on their smartphones and display it on their screen, just to be noticed by organizers.
There were people in the public hearing who tried to sabotage it by showing obscene photos and videos on their screens. They were later kicked out of the virtual meeting.
In September 2021, the supplemental toll operations agreement for the project was signed by the Toll Regulatory Board and the Department of Transportation, despite protests. Mobility advocates questioned the “unusually fast” process, from the first public consultation to groundbreaking.
In defense of the project, SMC said there will be a bus rapid transit, walkways, and bike lanes on the elevated expressway. – with reports from Eirenne Lumasang/Rappler.com
Eirenne Lumasang is a Rappler intern. She is a communication student from the Ateneo de Manila University.