Alilem is a 4th class municipality located in southern Ilocos Sur. According to the latest census, it has a population of 6,217 persons in 1,168 households. It is bounded on the north by the town of Suyo, on the east by Benguet Province, on the south by Sugpon Municipality, and on the west by La Union Province. It has a total land area of 119 square kilometers and is politically subdivided into 9 barangays. Most of the residents make a living from farming corn and tobacco.

In the past, one needed to cross the Amburayan River by boat or footbridge to reach the town. Amburayan River has been a part of Philippine history and the life and cultures of the indigenous peoples living along or near it. Historical accounts point to the Amburayan River as the escape route of the legendary Chinese warrior-trader Limahong when Spanish troops pursued him.

The Amburayan River is synonymous to danger during rains and typhoons. The river would rise to unmanageable levels, leaving the town and its residents totally isolated. But in 2004, the first permanent and only dry-crossing link to Alilem was constructed by the Luzon Hydro Corporation (LHC) – the company that operates the 70-MW Bakun AC run-of-river hydropower plant in Ilocos Sur. Known as the “Friendship Bridge,” the 292-meter long by 5.2-meter wide concrete structure spans the Amburayan River allowing vehicles to cross to and from Barangay Namatugan, Sudipen, La Union where the nearest national highway passes.

The bridge was built under LHC’s obligations in a memorandum of agreement with the local government of Alilem during the term of Former Mayor Samson Bangaoil. It is seen as a gesture of friendship between the hydro company and its host communities, thus the name “Friendship Bridge.” In addition to the bridge, the hydropower company also built over 8 km of new roads which is to now used as farm-to-market conduits by barangays Apang, Apaya and Anaao.

In spite of early oppositions from the residents, the government went on with the project for it saw the benefits of constructing the bridge. It would speed up the farm-to-market transport of agriculture products such as fruits, root crops, rice, corn and tobacco. The crops could reach the local markets still fresh and thus, command a better price. The foresight of former Mayor Bangaoil attests of the benefits of the bridge. Certainly the bridge has been bringing significant social and economic benefits to the people of Ilocos Sur and Benguet provinces.

Alilem which is now under the leadership of Mayor Mar Ruel Payaqui Sumabat are benefitting from much faster delivery times to markets – particularly important for producers of perishable goods. It has also brought about the establishment of new businesses. These in turn have led to greater employment opportunities. Hedcor, Inc. and LHC are both wholly-owned subsidiaries of the Aboitiz Power Corporation. (ANL/NOA-PIA 1 Ilocos Sur)

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