Where does road development lead the Philippines? Excavating the environmental impact of roadway construction

Roads, bridges, and other transportation corridors are the backbone of modern civilization. Without proper planning, they can spell disaster for nearby communities.

As a developing country, the Philippines continues to see new infrastructure projects being built left and right, with new roads and highways constantly being touted as markers for progress. Then again, as we have likely been told a thousand times over, such progress is never without its risks. 

The threats that road developments pose to the environment, in particular, is a notion that has been hammered into social consciousness time and time again. While it may seem redundant by now, such unrelenting repetition is done for good reason. 

In response to these challenges, the Philippine government has instituted the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) guidelines, a framework aimed at mitigating the adverse environmental effects of infrastructure development. As the country navigates the intricate intersection of progress and preservation, the efficacy of EIA in safeguarding our natural heritage emerges as a pivotal concern, underscoring the need for transparency, accountability, and community involvement in current and future infrastructure projects.

Cementing creations and compliance

Several projects by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) follow the EIA guidelines. Among these is the Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3 Project, an elevated highway that aims to cut the travel time from Buendia to Balintawak. To minimize its impact on the ecosystem and nearby communities, the agency focused its efforts on evaluating the noise barriers, green spaces, and stormwater management of the area.

A major road construction project like the Skyway Stage 3 must be monitored by the DPWH before, during, and after its development. Before development, DPWH enforces the EIA to predict the environmental and social impact of their flood control projects and other bridge construction projects. These are typically done by doing baseline studies and impact assessments to evaluate the degree of the impact and minimize its effects. According to the agency, both the immediate and long-term impacts of these projects are measured using ten indicators: air quality, water quality, biodiversity, soil quality, noise levels, socioeconomic conditions, cultural heritage, ecosystem services, land use planning, and climate change resilience of the area. 

After a thorough assessment, other government agencies and stakeholders review the data before approving the project. The DPWH works hand in hand with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) at this stage. A project can only begin its implementation when the DENR issues a Certificate of Non-Coverage (CNC) or an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) if the proposed mitigation measures of the contractors comply with the EIA standards. 

During the implementation phase, an Environmental Management Plan is implemented to determine the timeline of the project and mitigate the damages it can cause. At the final phase of the project, the infrastructure would be monitored to gauge the efficacy of these mitigation measures, evaluate the long-term performance of the project, and address the concerns of the affected community. These measures are in place to hold implementing bodies accountable for ensuring that any negative environmental impacts of road development projects are minimized as much as possible.

Where the road divides

The construction process has led to a busy street plagued by roadworks. One area in particular is the streets of Taft Ave. which have undergone reblocking and road repairs this year from February and March. Many people have criticized the frequent repairs on seemingly intact roads, becoming a source of frustration for residents because they often build up traffic in the city. 

In reality, these repairs are essential for the preventive maintenance of roads. Asphalt roads are typically designed to last 15 years, while concrete roads can endure for 25 years. The lifespan of these roads depends on how much they are used and if vehicles are overloaded, which can hasten deterioration. Additionally, some road initiatives are approved by local government units. For instance, water companies request permission to excavate roads to fix or replace old pipes. 

Repaving streets, replacing bridges, and building overpasses are just some of the most common road works in the country.

Even with multiple safeguards in place, building roads can potentially lead to worsening pollution levels, exacerbate soil erosion, and destroy habitats. Similarly, instances of soil destabilization may lead to landslides and increase the risk of vehicular accidents. These become hazardous to communities, while also taking into account that these infrastructure projects can be displaced, leading to disagreements and civil unrest. 

The same environmental challenges can also slow down construction activities and damage the infrastructure. Take the soaring heat index as an example. As the country continues to swelter in extreme heat, workers are at risk of experiencing heat-related ailments, raising the difficulty in maintaining roads and their longevity. 

Meanwhile, shortages of resources and regulatory requirements impact the activities of the project, increasing its expenses and further delaying its implementation. Aside from the inconvenience this may bring to local residents, contractors will incur a daily penalty of 50,000 pesos for failing to finish the project on time. This could also merit in being barred from applying for future project permits.

Upholding principles

Earlier this year, the DPWH unveiled multiple big-ticket road infrastructure projects in a bid to decongest Metro Manila. These include the Cavite-Laguna Expressway, the South Luzon Expressway Toll Road 4, and the Skyway Stage 3. Transparency and accountability must be upheld to ensure that these projects are environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive not just during their implementation but also throughout their post-construction lifetime. Central to ensuring these principles is the rigorous implementation of the EIA process. 

Beyond considering the potential damage to the surrounding landscape, the role of the EIA process in maintaining accountability and transparency also extends to the impact of road development projects on local communities. Since road development projects can lead to environmental hazards such as pollution and landslides, and in some cases, even the displacement of communities, EIA mandates that relevant stakeholders are also consulted as part of the planning and assessment process. By facilitating transparency through public hearings, consultations, and other communication platforms, local communities can ask questions and offer critical feedback. In doing so, their concerns and perspectives regarding the potential impacts of infrastructure projects on their environments, livelihoods, and well-being can also be addressed and considered in the shaping of project plans.

In spite of the processes and guidelines in place, ensuring transparency can still prove difficult in some instances, especially when there is complex technical information involved that may be difficult for communities to comprehend fully. Effective communication between the DPWH and local communities is sometimes hindered by language barriers or limited access to technology. 

In some cases, corruption and political interference may also lead to biased assessments and inadequate mitigation measures. This makes it possible for projects to operate in the absence of a CNC or ECC, even though there have been issues securing permits on some infrastructure projects.

Government bureaucracy and lack of interagency coordination present additional challenges that hinder project implementation. Insufficient coordination can result in redundant requests for essential documents, leading to duplication and project delays. This issue may also stem from the limited manpower in some agencies and the shortage of experts capable of conducting the EIA process. Building roads is crucial, but it also involves and affects a lot of people. Road construction projects are vital for development, they must align seamlessly with the preservation of the environment and community well-being to ensure sustainable progress.

This article was published in The LaSallian‘s Vanguard 2024 special. To read more, visit

Ibrahim Kahil

By Ibrahim Kahil

Rachel Manlapig

By Rachel Manlapig

Leave a Reply