San Juanico Bridge: Bridging the gap
Photograph courtesy of fb/palo tacloban city leyte HAVING stood the test of time, San Juanico Bridge proves that strength comes from unity.
The San Juanico Bridge is a testament to the Philippines’ thrust for unity, as it was designed to connect two islands over a body of water that separates the provinces of Samar and Leyte.
It was said to be the country’s longest bridge that crossed a body of water. Construction of the bridge began in August 1969 and was officially completed in December 1972 as part of the Pan-Philippine Highway or what we now also call the Maharlika Highway.
Over the years, the San Juanico Bridge was regarded as an engineering marvel, one that could compete with other bridges in the world. It was constructed during the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos through the Japanese Official Development Assistance loans.
The bridge spans 2.162km and connects the islands of Samar and Leyte.
According to former National Economic and Development Authority deputy director Ruperto Alonzo, the project was initially a white elephant that was “a possession that is useless and expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of” because its average daily traffic was too low to justify the cost of its construction.
As a result, its construction has been associated with what has been called the Marcoses’ “edifice complex.”
In the years after the Marcos administration, economic activity in Samar and Leyte finally caught up with the bridge’s intended function under the guidance of several administrations from Corazon Aquino to the present administration, and has become an iconic tourist attraction.
It is rare to pass by without seeing tourists walking from end to end or taking pictures. It takes approximately five minutes by car or 40 to 50 minutes of walking from one end to the other, then back. The bridge is relatively safe, with police checkpoints stationed 24/7 on both ends.
From above there are beautiful mountain ranges, deep-blue lagoon, lush islands, and charming coves that exist at the San Juanico Strait, a narrow body of water that separates the islands of Samar and Leyte.
Apart from it becoming a tourist attraction, there are also a number of urban legends associated with the bridge’s construction and the most popular one involves a woman overseeing the project who follows a fortune teller’s advice and orders workers to mix children’s blood with the bridge’s foundation.
Believing the fortune teller, the workers were ordered to kidnap street children and slit their throats, splattering the blood on the bridge’s site.
The bodies of the children were just then thrown away in the river. It was all seen by the “river fairy.” Feeling troubled and was greatly affected of the children’s fate, the river fairy cursed the woman.
The legs of the woman grew scales and emit a foul fishy smell— this is why she always wears long skirts and gowns to hide her legs and frequently takes a bath to remove the smell.
These are just among the versions of the San Juanico Bridge construction. True or not, the bridge has stood the test of time.
It also had its share of cinematic cameo, as actor and stunt performer Dante Varona jumped from the San Juanico Bridge without a harness in the 1981 movie Hari ng Stunt.
However, the San Juanico Bridge hasn’t lasted this long without any interventions whatsoever. In the early 2000s, it underwent a major rehabilitation project under the Department of Public Works and Highways.
And while the bridge was even operational during and after the wrath of super typhoon “Yolanda” last November 2013, it remains tough and sturdy despite the damages it acquired.
Repairs include the tightening and replacement of bolts — the first since the bridge began construction —and are all part of a P95.25 million project. A viewdeck was also opened in July 2022 for tourists wanting to take photos of the structure.
Some of the most recent projects involving the bridge is the P80-million San Juanico Aesthetic Lighting Project which was supposed to be inaugurated in 2021, but was delayed in order to make way for major repair works by the DPWH.
More recently, the Samar provincial government has announced the schedule of light shows at the San Juanico Bridge, the newest tourist attraction in the province.
On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, the bridge will be lit up by static light from 6 p.m. to midnight. Between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., the bridge will feature four 15-minute light shows.
From Mondays to Thursdays, when visitors are considerably fewer, static light will still illuminate the structure but only for a shorter period from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
“The static light display is the steady red, blue, and green color display while the dynamic display features the captivating light show,” the Samar provincial government said.
The local government is the proponent of the P80 million project funded by the Tourism Enterprise Zone Authority.
The provincial government will be paying the electricity bill and assume the task of maintaining the lights.
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