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Romancing the bridges
Source: Manila Bulletin
Author: -
Date: 2007-06-03
Heritage bridges have their own tales to tell. Grand but mute heroes, a good number of almost two centuries old, they traverse deep ravines and rampaging rivers to connect towns and communities.

Before bridges came along, riverine travel was made in small bancas, or poled rafts.

A number of Spanish friars assigned to far-flung missions undertook bridgebuilding with whatever scant knowledge they may have had, or borrowed from books on bridge construction. Civil engineers began to be sent to Islas Filipinas when the Inspeccion General de Obras Publicas was created in 1866.

By that time, however, many bridges already had been built. Supervised by their friar-designers, most of them were put together using the polo system, otherwise known as forced labor of masses of Filipinos. Like the churches constructed in each town, hewn rock was held together with a lime mixture.

Some of these still stand — by the blood, sweat and tears of our forefathers.


The Puente de Dampol through treacherous Dalton Pass in Nueva Vizcaya, in the town of Dupax de Sur remains intact and in use. Built by Fray Fancisco Rocamora, O.P. in 1818, the single-arch bridge spans the Abanatan Creek.

Fray Victorino del Moral de Calatrava supervised the erection of Puente del Capricho in 1826. Built over the Olla River in Majayjay, Laguna, the 90–foot high arch used the Mamposteria technique — one rough stone piled on top of another, and held together with lime.

Though unfurbished, the puente has withstood numberless earthquakes, despite the fraile’s inexperience in engineering. The awesome structure was used by Francis Ford Coppola as a location for "Apocalypse Now."

Two Spanish dons each built a bridge in Tayabas, Quezon—perhaps prevailed upon by the parish priest to help out. Puente de Alitao traversing the Alitao River and still in use, was built in 1823 by Don Diego Urbano.

Far grander in scale and an aesthetic delight, is the Puente de Malagonlong, five towering arches spanning the Dumcan River. Don Julian Francisco built it in 1850 and is one of the few remaining long spans built by the Spaniards still intact.

Of more recent vintage, but a most important historic site where the Philippine–American War broke out (Private Wily Grayson may or may not have seen two Filipino soldiers crossing the bridge in the dead of the night — nationalist believe he did not), is the San Juan Bridge.

Built in 1883 as a viaduct to supply Manila with water, the bridge was built over the San Juan River from drawings made by Geraro Palacios y Guerra (prescient coincidence).

To celebrate the recent Heritage Festival Month of May, postage stamps showing Philippine bridges were launched together with a photographic exhibit of 22 such marvels of engineering at the Ayala Upper Level of Glorietta in Makati.

Sponsors of the festival are the National Commission on Culture and the Arts and the Department of Tourism. Their partners for this event are the Philippine Postal Corporation, the University of Santo Tomas Center for Intercultural Studies, and Ayala Malls.

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