By Manuel Maximo Lopez del Castillo-Noche
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:22:00 05/12/2008
MANILA, Philippines – When one travels the length and breadth of the country, one is greeted with a myriad of sceneries, from pristine beaches with powder-fine sand to azure seas with a forest of corals underneath, majestic mountains with profiles that test the most vivid of imaginations, ancient and not-so-ancient structures left by various colonizers, and the most fun-loving and hospitable of people in this part of the world.
Yet one normally forgets that there are structures dotting the landscape that make visiting and experiencing these marvels possible. Traveling by land is still the most natural and preferred mode of transport in and around the country, and this has been made possible not only by the provision of quality-grade road networks that make traveling comfortable and memorable, but also, in a very discreet way, by bridges, which span the gaps of the earth’s profile.
These bridges bring communities together, enabling relations to be established and sites which otherwise would be overlooked, noticed. And what was once separated by bodies of water, or treacherous ravines, can now be accessed with ease through the bridge.
No wonder, throughout the course of history, bridges have played an integral part in the building of communities.
In the Philippines, bridges were built early during the Spanish colonization. In fact, the earliest known bridge in the islands and undoubtedly the most significant was the Puente Grande or Puente de España, which crossed Pasig River. In the 1920s, this ancient bridge was replaced by the Beaux Art masterpiece, the Jones Bridge.
During the 333 years of Spanish colonial rule, roads and bridges (camino y puentes) were built by the friar missionaries, military engineers and, later, civil engineers.
During the American occupation, the immediate development and improvement of the islands’ road infrastructure became a priority.
During the governorship of William Cameron Forbes from 1909 to 1913, the development of the country through roads, bridges, ports and railways commenced. Known as "El Caminero," Forbes undertook massive road projects, believing that transportation could fuel industrial progress.
"Transportation should make a great revolution in the industrial development of the islands, as it will put a market within reach of the tiller of the soil," said Forbes.
In 1907 there were 3,280 bridges and culverts in the archipelago. By 1913 these had increased to 5,660. In 1911 $6.1 million was allocated for public works with $1 million appropriated for road and bridge construction.
In 1907, there were only 303 miles of first-class roads throughout the country. By 1913, these had significantly increased to 1,187 miles.
Road-building continued during the term of Governor General Francis Burton Harrison from 1913 to 1920. During his term, more bridges, known as Harrison bridges, were built to link communities with one another.
The American period not only brought about a revolution in Philippine society through politics, education and culture; it also significantly developed a change in the landscape of the Philippines through the opening up of the countryside to travel and commerce.
From 1899 to 1946, the Philippines was thrust into the 20th century. Progress through mobility became the hallmark of economic prosperity and growth.
The bridges the American colonizers built and left are indelible links to our past. Looking toward the future, we cannot forget and dismiss that, despite colonialism and all its wages, the country’s colonial history was also one of improved infrastructure, fostering communication, prosperity and, to some extent, peace.
As we celebrate Heritage Month, it is about time we look back at the various layers of culture imprinted upon the Philippines throughout its colorful history. For no matter how or where culture emanated from, we must remember that as long as this is manifested in our soil, it is considered and declared Filipino.
These bridges, though a good number have been replaced or modernized, still serve the same purpose they have played almost a hundred years since they were built.
Supplementing those built during the long Spanish period, and complementing those built after our independence, these mighty spans operate as mute reminders of the universal desire to link people, separated by nature’s dividing lines, into one continuous and harmonious nation.
Considered as engineering achievements, these bridges have become important landmarks of our collective national psyche.
In remembering these important pieces of infrastructure, we recognize their role in history and their contribution to nation-building.
By Manuel Maximo Lopez del Castillo-Noche