Motorists who regularly ply the Ibaan-Batangas City Road may not find anything remotely remarkable about the Sabang Bridge along the way, but just like every structure it has a story that just needs to be told. In the late nineteenth century, according to the historian Manuel Sastron1, the most traversed road that ran through Ibaan was the one that led to the municipality of San Jose.
This meant that travelers in horse-drawn carriages going from Ibaan to the then-pueblo or town of Batangas needed to drive northwest to San Jose before turning south along the main road to get to their destination. According to John H. Caton2, District Engineer of Batangas in 1914, before the bridge’s construction,
“…all material moved over the road was transshipped onto bamboo rafts at Sabang and dragged down a shallow stream by carabaos. This was necessary, due to the impossible grades (a grade being the degree of a road’s inclination3) encountered in getting out of the ravine from water level.”
The bridge was part of the San Juan de Bocboc to Batangas Road Project and completed in the first quarter of 1914. Of course, its construction posed many challenges. It was built to span a ravine that was “31 meters above low water on one bank and 41.5 on the other.” In other words, from one end of the bridge, there was a plunge of 102 feet and 136 feet at the other.
The road span over the bridge totaled 53.6 meters (176 feet), sitting atop two concrete arches. The remarkable thing about the Sabang Bridge, wrote Caton, was that it was built with a “daring” combination of adobe masonry (adobe being sunbaked bricks4) abutments or arch supports with “modern reinforced-concrete arch spans.”
Some antiquated adobe bridges in Batangas built by the former Spanish colonial regime, Caton noted, were still in excellent condition. However, these bridges were vulnerable to the frequent earthquakes in the province, primarily because of Taal Volcano’s continuing activity. Their foundations also began to soften over time due to frequent immersion in water.
In the case of the Sabang Bridge, the use of concrete made it more resistant to earthquakes and no adobe foundations were laid down in areas that were expected to be immersed in water for long periods. This combination of old and new technology was not the only thing that made the bridge remarkable. It was also completely built by hand. Wrote Caton:
“The Sabang Bridge is a handmade structure, handmade in the sense that no equipment outside of picks, shovels, old petroleum cans, rope, and wooden blocks was used in its construction. No power outside that exerted by the workmen, assisted by one or two carabaos, was used in its erection. The adobe was quarried by hand-cutting tools, it was carried to its position by men walking on inclined platforms. Sand, gravel, steel, and even the water, were carried to the “topside” by hand. Cement was hoisted by block and tackle on the business end of which worked a carabao. The concrete was mixed by hand and run into place in wheelbarrows. The adobe stone, sand, and gravel were procured at the bridge site, all other materials were hauled about 7 kilometers up a shallow stream on bamboo rafts dragged by carabaos. Due to the isolated position of the structure and due principally to the archaic construction methods used by the contractors, it has taken something over one year to build.”
The bridge was completed at a total cost of ₱58,500. Morgan Friedman’s inflation calculator estimates this same amount to be ₱1,453,873.82 in the present day.
According to the history of barrio Sabang in Ibaan5, Sabang Bridge was blown up in World War II and subsequently rebuilt in 1952 by the United States Rehabilitation Administration. How it looks like in the present day is shown in the Google Earth Street View picture below.
Notes and references:1 “Pequeños Estudios, Batangas y Su Provincia,” by Manuel Sastron, published 1895.
2 Most of the important details about Sabang Bridge, unless otherwise annotated, is taken from “Sabang Bridge,” by John H. Caton, published in Bureau of Public Works Quarterly Bulletin, Volume III, Number 1 on 1 April 1914.
3 “Grade,” online at Merriam-Webster.
4 “Adobe,” online at Merriam-Webster.
5 “History and Cultural Life of Barrio Sabang,” online at the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.