“Further reclamation of Manila Bay will greatly endanger the fragile marine ecosystem which contributes to food production and mitigates the disastrous effects of calamities and floods in nearby areas.” – People’s Network for the Integrity of Coastal Habitats and Ecosystems
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — A newly formed multi-sectoral alliance seeking to protect marine ecosystems wants Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim to revoke the city ordinance that lifted the ban on reclamation in Manila Bay and allowed Manila Goldcoast Development Corporation to reclaim a portion of the bay for commercial and business purposes.
Called the People’s Network for the Integrity of Coastal Habitats and Ecosystems (Peoples’ NICHE), the alliance proposes the restoration, instead of reclamation, of coastal waters of Manila Bay. Peoples’ NICHE proposed it amid talks that the local government is planning to open the site for “Solar City,” a commercial complex to be constructed for entertainment and tourism.
While proponents of “Solar City” may promise huge profits especially for those controlling it, the means to build it harbor far greater losses to citizens not just of Manila but of nearby provinces, experts affiliated with Peoples NICHE have said before.
“Further reclamation of Manila Bay will greatly endanger the fragile marine ecosystem which contributes to food production and mitigates the disastrous effects of calamities and floods in nearby areas. The bay also has historical and cultural value that must be preserved for future generations,” said People’s NICHE spokesman Dr. Jojo Carabeo.
Reclamation has been touted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization as “an irreversible form of environmental degradation.” Yet, the Philippine government has given the go signal to the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) to engage in massive land reclamation all over the country through Public-Private Partnerships (PPP), the Peoples Summit on the Impacts of Reclamation reported.
Under the National Reclamation Plan (NRP), the Aquino government is set to implement 102 reclamation projects covering 38,000 hectares of foreshore areas.
Thirty eight (38) of these reclamation projects encompassing 26,234 hectares, or 70-percent of the target scope of reclamation will be implemented in Manila Bay. These will cover several coastal towns of Cavite province (Cavite City, Tanza, Noveleta, Rosario, Kawit and Bacoor City), coastal cities of Metro Manila, and coastal towns of Bulacan, Pampanga and Bataan in the Central Luzon region.
Parts of Manila Bay had previously been reclaimed. But with it came problems of worsened flooding in Metro Manila, aside from reduced fish catch in the surrounding waters.
“The country’s annual fish catch is on a steady decline largely attributable to severe degradation of coastal and marine habitats with up to 98 percent of our coral reefs currently at risk, 75.6 percent of mangroves lost in the past 82 years, and 50 percent of sea grass beds lost in the past 50 years,” read the People’s NICHE unity statement.
Among the factors blamed for the severe degradation of coastal and marine habitats is extensive reclamation.
The incentive for reclamation is real estate boom, but here, the promoters are “thinking only of where they can get land cheaper,” Lourdes Montemayor, an environmental economist, told Bulatlat.com on the sidelines of the Peoples’ Summit on the Impacts of Reclamation held in Quezon City late last year.
“Often, developers cite sale of reclaimed land vs. cost of reclamation – but that is wrong,” Montemayor said. In her study of experiences with reclamation of Metro Cebu, she found out that when the project has public consequences, one should also look at its social cost and benefits. Developers only count the cost of bringing in landfill, but not the social and environmental cost. “For the developers, reclamation is profitable, but not for others in society,” Montemayor concludes.
An example of those who benefited from reclamation is Henry Sy, whose Mall of Asia and SM Cebu sit on reclaimed lands. His conglomerate reportedly plans to construct other SM’s in to-be reclaimed lands in Talisay and southern Metro Cebu.
With reclamation, the real estate value of nearby lands goes down, especially when left underdeveloped and when affected by increased flooding as a consequence of the reclamation.
“With the flooding phenomenon, there would be a reversal: what used to be land would be water,” warned Las Piñas Rep. Cynthia Villar, a co-convener of the Alliance for Stewardship and Authentic Progress or ASAP, which is opposing the government plans to implement the South Reclamation Project. Like with Manila Bay, if the South Reclamation Project pushes through, it would disadvantage parts of Parañaque, Bacoor and Las Piñas, said Carabeo, spokesman of Peoples NICHE and convener also of ASAP.
Instead of pushing for reclamation projects such as of the Solar City in Manila Bay, “What the national and Manila City governments should focus on is restoring the previous pristine environment of Manila Bay and surrounding communities. (But) Until now, the government has not implemented the comprehensive cleanup of the bay as ordered by the Supreme Court (SC) to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and 10 other government agencies,” Dr. Carabeo said.
The Supreme Court on February 15, 2011 rendered a decision based on recommendations by the Manila Bay Advisory Committee (MBAC) to set time frames for the agencies to perform the cleanup ordered in a “writ of continuing mandamus.” The mandamus was issued in December 2008 in response to a complaint filed by “concerned residents of Manila Bay” on the alleged inaction of government to improve the bay’s condition.
The broad network has earlier called on the national government to impose a 10-year moratorium on all reclamation projects in the country. The call was endorsed by 75 organizations that convened in the first ever People’s Summit on the Impacts of Reclamation held late last year.
“The history of reclamation projects is riddled with corruption and the lack of social acceptability like what we experienced in the controversial PEA-Amari deal and the anomalous Diosdado Macapagal Highway project. Also, thousands of families in Metro Manila were displaced by reclamation projects,” said Kalikasan PNE National Coordinator Clemente Bautista, Jr.,
“Reclamation is an aberration under existing legal framework for ecological sustainability and the climate challenges that we face,” said lawyer Gloria Ramos of the Philippine Earth Justice Center.
People’s NICHE is a nation-wide alliance is convened by Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines, PAMALAKAYA, Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology – UP Diliman, AGHAM – Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, Kalikasan Partylist, ASAP – Alliance for Stewardship and Authentic Progress, Philippine Earth Justice Center and Central Visayas Fisherfolk Development Center Inc.