BACK in the mid-1990s, the rehabilitation of Batiano Bridge in Oton, Iloilo was met with strong resistance from residents upon knowing the new bridge would be higher than the old one.
Cause-oriented and other militant groups joined forces with Catholic parishioners in an attempt to stop the project unless the bridge would be constructed according to their demand – safe and commuter-friendly.
Not even then barangay chairman Evaristo Flores Sr. was able to convince the proponents of the project to heed the appeal to discontinue the rehabilitation unless proper physical revisions were done.
Eventually, the new Batiano Bridge was opened to the public.
Initially, the riding public enjoyed convenience. But only momentarily. Residents came to realize that the new bridge was too high; visibility became an issue with ascending vehicles coming from opposite directions.
A few months later, a series of vehicular accidents took place. Some were unlucky; they lost their lives.
Since then, those living just within the vicinity became jaded with vehicular accidents. Some old guards blamed the proponents of the Batiano Bridge project. They claimed it was conceived and delivered out of greed.
Local historians would even condemn the act as a sacrilege to their cultural heritage. The construction of the new bridge destroyed the century-old concrete stairs just beside it. It could have served as a landmark. The Batiano River was a trading site during the Chinese and Spanish era.
Some old residents of Oton, already in their twilight years, would share stories about how during their youth they would frequent the river for a swim and fish. People living along the riverbank enjoyed riding in their bancas drifting away to the sea and back, from dusk till dawn.
Batiano River then was also a source of marine life and very rich in vegetation. Residents never experienced the pangs of hunger. All these are now part of the past.
The once grand Batiano River is no longer there. What you see now is a murky canal. And worse, the area down the bridge has become a public toilet.
Also, despite the effort of the local government to clear the river from garbage thrown by irresponsible residents, flooding remains a problem. The construction of the new bridge in 1996 made the river narrower, too. The proponents never anticipated these.
Residents have no choice but to live with these – a bitter pill to swallow forced upon them due to corruption. ([email protected]/PN)