Palawan Philippines Tourism and Transport

A roadwork project is not only bringing new opportunities to drivers whose livelihoods depend on transport infrastructure, but also to once isolated rural fishers.

“I have been able to put two kids through college and one of them is an aeronautic engineer. The added income from the new road made this possible.”

─Antonio Villanueva, 60, bus driver

PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines - On the picturesque coast of the southern Philippine island of Palawan, life has always been hard for those who make their living from tourism or fishing the waters of Honda Bay. By the late 1990s, the bay had been over-fished and fishers in the area were struggling to feed their families with what little they could hook from the sea. The islands in the bay were beautiful but few tourists braved the grueling, rutted roads to get to them.

That changed with the upgrade of the road from Palawan's capital city, Puerto Princesa, where the airport and most hotels are located, to a smooth asphalt surface, allowing tourists to get to the bay in a comfortable 45 minutes. As a result, a government-organized program to turn the fishing boats into tour boats that take visitors on island-hopping trips around the bay has seen the number of tourists quadruple to 40,000 a year.

The upgrade of the road to Honda Bay—as well as the road from the capital to Palawan's famed underground river and El Nido tourist areas—benefited not only the fishers. The drivers who once struggled to scratch out a living on the rugged roads found themselves in a profitable business.

For Joseph Carbonell, a 31-year-old tourist driver with three children, the new road has had a dramatic impact on his life.

"The old road was terrible," he says. "It was very bumpy. Tourists wouldn't go on the old road. It was only local residents so I couldn't make very much money. It was very difficult to use a good vehicle on the old road."

When he took tourists north, it used to be about 6 hours of hard travel. Now it is less than 4 hours of comfortable travel, and during the peak season he has a steady flow of tourists using his vehicle. The peak season allows him to save some money to finance his children's educations during the lean tourism months.

Supporting a 'vital sector'

“Transport systems have a crucial role in supporting the economic development of the widely dispersed regions of the Philippines. Roads are the dominant form of transport in the country and ADB has been a longtime supporter of this vital sector.”

─Shihiru Date, senior transport specialist with ADB’s Southeast Asia Department.

The roads that Carbonell benefited from were upgraded as part of the ADB-supported Sixth Road Project, a $576.9 million project that included an ADB loan for $167 million, as well as financing from other partners, including the Export-Import Bank of Japan, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries Fund for International Development, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, and the Overseas Development Administration of the United Kingdom.

The project, which was approved in 1996 and closed in 2007, included road improvement; the replacement and repair of bridges; design and construction supervision; as well as other forms of support for key roads around the Philippines.

The project completion report, which assessed the project, gave it a rating of "successful" and noted that it was responsible for the improvement of about 840 kilometers (km) of national roads on the islands of Luzon, Masbate, Mindanao, Palawan, and Panay. The project also supported the rehabilitation and structural overlay of about 800 km of national roads in Cebu, Luzon, Masbate, Mindanao, Negros, and Panay. In addition, replacement, repair, and retrofitting work was completed on about 400 bridges in the national road network in Luzon, Mindanao, and Panay.

"Transport systems have a crucial role in supporting the economic development of the widely dispersed regions of the Philippines," says Shihiru Date, senior transport specialist with ADB's Southeast Asia Department. "Roads are the dominant form of transport in the country and ADB has been a longtime supporter of this vital sector."

Easy driving

The lack of modern infrastructure and reliable, safe, and efficient transport services has over the years significantly hampered the movement of passengers and cargo in the Philippines. This has limited direct internal and external trade links and has served as a major constraint to increased regional economic growth. This is particularly true in many poor rural areas of the Philippines, where adequate accessibility could lower marketing costs for local agricultural products, improve access of the local population to social services and economic opportunities, and be the catalyst for investments to develop local resources.

For 60-year-old Antonio Villanueva, the road system of the Philippines is his life. For 4 decades, he has been a bus driver in the southern province of Palawan. He remembers it taking up to 10 hours to make the drive from the capital city to the northern town of Roxas. Since the upgrade of the road, it takes 2 hours, allowing him to make several trips a day and increase his income.

Due to the additional trips, and the decreased maintenance costs on the new road, he has been able to invest his savings in buying three new vehicles. This has dramatically increased his earnings.

"I have been able to put two kids through college and one of them is an aeronautic engineer," he says proudly. "The added income from the new road made this possible."