History tells us that Kennon Road, the scenic and historic zigzag road connecting the mountain resort City of Baguio in the highlands and Rosario town in the lowlands, was built by over 2,000 foreign and local laborers starting 1903 and was opened to traffic on January 29, 1905 costing over $2.7 million for the American colonial government for its construction. Through the years, it became a popular road because it was the shortest route to and from the country’s undisputed Summer Capital. Some parts of the highway served as major encampments of Filipino and American soldiers in World War II as they tried to defeat the Japanese Imperial Army which colonized the Philippines from December 8, 1941 to September 3, 1945.
Kennon Road has been a very useful roadline to Baguio to the different parts of Benguet and Mountain Province traversed by heavy trucks and passenger buses. The road was named after builder and architect Col. Lyman Kennon who pooled foreign and local engineers and laborers to carve the road through the mountain slopes.
Increased education, commercial and industrial opportunities in Baguio City and other parts of Benguet, necessitated the construction of Naguilian Road and the Marcos highway eventually to serve as alternate route for motorists.
Ironically, Kennon Road was heavily devastated during the 7.6 magnitude July 16, 1990 killer earthquake which caused the total closure of major roads leading to Baguio City, including Kennon Road. It took sometime before this historic road was re-opened to light vehicular traffic. Experts from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) identified some geohazard areas along the roadline and it is up to the public works department to institute the appropriate mitigating measures to guarantee the safety of motorists and residents living in communities along the road. The government actually spent billions of pesos under the so-called Earthquake Rehabilitation Fund (ERF) to stabilize identified slide-prone areas of Kennon Road but it will take time for the situation along the disturbed roadline to stabilize. The public works department had infused funds for multi-million projects along the road for over two decades now but the stability of the declared geohazard areas is still a concern primarily because of alleged poor project workmanship or rampant corruption in the prosecution of such projects.
In 2009, Kennon Road was again closed to vehicular traffic due to series of landslides triggered by Typhoons Pepeng and Ondoy and re-opened later. The public works department continues to implement a policy that during two hours of continuous rains, the whole stretch of the road will be totally closed for the safety of motorists.
Last June 16, 2018, Kennon Road was totally closed to vehicular traffic following a series of landslides that claimed the lives of a number of innocent individuals, inflicted injuries to dozens of them and damaged millions worth of properties, especially motor vehicles that were buried, to pave the way for the supposed repair of the identified critical sections of the road.
Some 5,000 residents living in communities along the road started to feel the effect of the closure of the road to them and have requested the opening of some portions of the road as the cosure has caused some of them their jobs and studies but their request has not been acted upon.
DPWH officials must explain to the residents why it cannot give in to the request of the residents as a matter of public service. If there is no logical justification to deny this request, the DPWH must lack the compassion for those who continue to suffer from the total closure of the road. DPWH officials, who boast that they know the situation in the area, have simply mixed up history. It is not true that Marcos highway and Naguilian Road were built to free Kennon Road considering that the said roads were already existent before some parts of the road were declared geohazard due to the effect of the earthquake.
The best agency to decide on whether or not Kennon Road is totally unsafe is supposedly the MGB but it is unfortunate that the road was totally closed without even a formal order from whoever decided to deprive residents access to their homes.
Blaming local governments as culprits to the proliferation of inhabitants along the road is not a good trait of a self-proclaimed DPWH professional. Remember that DPWH has also the mandate to free road-right-of-way from obstructions. Let us learn to be humane when dealing with the said situation because it already involves the living condition of people who are deprived of access to their homes. Let us not wait for the worst things to happen in the area before we start calling the shots the right way.
There were recommended mitigating measures to the problem but it seems it landed in deaf ears of professionals. Let us find solutions to the problem and not pinpointing problems and more problems that they themselves failed to solve. Work double time, the local residents are waiting.
Let it not be forgotten though that safety is prioritized first over anything else.