P200-M Panay Lighthouse Needs P50-M Repair Job - CT

To the first-time visitor, the Lolong Point Lighthouse is a sight to behold, especially in the early morning.

Perched on a promontory that looks like the back of a monstrous whale when seen from the sea, the lighthouse thrusts its 30-meter length into the blue sky, from where anyone can look out into the Pacific Ocean and see big ships passing by miles away.

However, it is doubtful whether any seaman on board such ships could see the weak, red light now issuing from the Japanese-made lighthouse’s remaining navigation aid: a pilot light going by on solar power.

Former lighthouse keeper Florenio Angeles, 65, still remembers how his brother-in-law, a member of the Philippine Coast Guard, plucked him off his security guard job at the Catanduanes Agricultural and Industrial College in 1990 and brought him to Lolong (Lorong to native Panganibanons) to oversee a small lighthouse that stood just a few meters away from where the rocket-like but useless high-tech version now stands.

He said he was paid P11,000 a month for overseeing the structure and was at the site when engineers and workers of Zeni Lite Buoy Co. Ltd. of Japan started work on the P200 million project. Zeni Lite, which is a leading designer and manufacturer of marine aids-to-navigation, had guaranteed that the lighthouse would withstand severe storms.

The lighthouse was one of the many Philippine lighthouses constructed or rehabilitated under the Maritime Safety Improvement Project, Phase B, funded by a P3-billion loan from the Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (OECF) of the Japanese government.

Construction started in 1997, Angeles said, with the Japanese contractor bringing in heavy equipment, materials, cement, steel bars and even sand and gravel by barge from the mainland. When work was finished in October 1998, the lighthouse stood about 30 meters from the base to the tip of its antenna and weighed a total of 9.4 tons (9,400 kilograms). The lantern house containing the rotating beacon sat on top of an aluminum tower, with its perimeter fence also enclosing the power house and solar cell modules.

However, Angeles said a powerful storm knocked out two windows in the lantern house three or four years ago and dislodged the beacon from its mounting, rendering the lighthouse technically inoperable and invisible from international ships passing by Philippine waters from as much as 40 kilometers away. A few years back, technicians from Cavite PCG installed the pilot light as a back-up to the downed rotating beacon at Lolong, as it would cost at least P50 million to repair the beacon and power system, with equipment to be sources from Zeni Lite at Okayama, Japan.

"Only the government can decide if the facility will be repaired," Angeles said, adding that when he retired in 2007, the PCG asked him to inspect the lighthouse from time to time. The keys, he said, are with a local farmer whom he asked to look after the landmark which can be reached via a 20-minute boat ride from the busy banca terminal at Tarahid.

The former lighthouse keeper, who is now the barangay captain of San Pedro, Panganiban, laments that when he heeded the request of PCG to bring the solar panels and 100 storage batteries for loading on a small barge in Virac, he used his own money and never got reimbursed for the expense and effort.

Among the objectives of the Coast Guard in its Aids to Navigation function is to attain 100% operational efficiency in all lighthouses in the Philippines and monitor and supervise the construction and rehabilitation of such facilities in coordination with concerned government agencies and local government units.

It is claimed that the Philippine government would be hard put allocating P50 million for the repair of the Lolong lighthouse, which its website ironically still describes as "operating." Aside From Lolong, the other lighthouses in Catanduanes are those in Baras (not operating), Calolbon, Pandan Point, Sialat (Calolbon), Tabugoc (Pandan) and Virac. The Tribune tried to contact the chief of the PCG Virac district in Sta. Cruz last Friday afternoon but he was in the mainland while his officer-in-charge was out "resting" in nearby barangay of Rawis.

Source: Catanduanes Tribune - 5 August 2009