Historic Intramuros takes first steps to go cable-free

Posted at 08/04/2014 8:45 AM

MANILA - Imagine walking along the cobbled streets of the walled city of Intramuros, taking in the historic and cultural sites, and shooting “selfies” in front of the San Agustin Church or Fort Santiago without any dangling utility cables to mar the picture-perfect view.

Impossible? Not according to the Intramuros Administration (IA), which is embarking on an ambitious project to transfer overhead power distribution and utility cables in the 64-hectare heritage property, underground.

In an interview with the BusinessMirror, IA Administrator Marco Antonio Luisito V. Sardillo III said the initial underground cabling project will be undertaken in phases starting next year to cover first four major streets—Plaza Roma, Calle Aduana, General Luna and Santa Lucia. “It should take approximately one year [simultaneous with our road repairs] to cover the first four streets that we identified,” he said.

With an initial P35 million provided by the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, an attached agency of the Department of Tourism (DOT), the IA will be able to start with Plaza Roma (P15 million) and Calle Aduana (P20 million) “in a couple of months,” Sardillo said. The project approved as part of DOT’s preparations for the Philippines’s hosting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in 2015.

The rest, including “remaining portions of Calle Aduana/Magallanes,” will cost P600 million, which, the IA is hoping, gets funded by the national government. IA is also a DOT unit.

At present, the IA is holding discussions with power distributor Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), as well as telecommunications giant Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., and other utility firms to help negotiate the transfer of the overhead cables in these four roads, below street level.

Sardillo stressed, however, the estimate P635-million cost for the undergrounding project, will mainly cover civil works, such as digging up the streets and providing the space for the cables and power transformers, but not the actual transfer of the transmission and utility lines themselves, as well as conversion of Meralco power units and metering facilities.

“Based on our conversations with the telcos and utility companies, if we build the underground facilities, they can more easily migrate. ’Yun daw kasi ’yung mahal, i.e. the civil works. In our case, it’s important that we start by building, so that [these firms] won’t have anymore excuse, and convince people that it’s really possible, and necessary [to transfer the cables underground].”

He added: “What makes Intramuros more difficult is that we’re not starting from scratch [like Bonifacio Global City, which was built with underground fiber optic cables and power transmission lines]. But we have a good opportunity next year, since we’re repairing/pedestrianizing a good majority of our streets.”

Contacted for comment, Meralco Vice President and Head of Corporate Business Group (CBG) Victor S. Genuino, declined to give an estimated cost of the transfer of its transmission lines and power units, pending receipt of an undergrounding master plan from the IA and a thorough evaluation and feasibility of the said plan. The CBG is Meralco’s unit, which oversees accounts with a contracted capacity of 500 kilowatts or more.

The IA chief hopes the utility firms will undertake the underground cabling project as part of their own corporate social responsibility projects. (See “IA to set up endowment fund,” in the BusinessMirror, January 4, 2014.)

The underground cabling of Intramuros was actually contained in a 1973 development master plan created under the auspices of the Spanish government. “The Spanish planners already told us in their tourism development plan for Intramuros that the facilities should be underground. The first hurdle is getting people to look past the ‘it’s expensive’ paradigm, and to realize that the status quo is more costly,” Sardillo emphasized.

In the aftermath of the recent Typhoon Glenda, which rendered numerous parts of Metro Manila and surrounding cities without electricity for days and interrupted Internet and mobile-phone services, netizens had been clamoring for the transfer of utility cables underground.

Even Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada has been looking at the possibility of transferring the city’s wide network of utility cables below ground.

There are also talks of the possibility of undergrounding the cables and transmission lines in Tacloban City, which was devastated last year by Supertyphoon Yolanda.

For more Businessmirror stories, go here.