People's Summit on the Impacts of Reclamation

October 24-25, 2012, University of the Philippines Diliman

Reclaiming the People’s Right to a Balanced and Healthful Ecology’


Privilege Speech of Senator Cynthia A. Villar  

Title:  ‘Reclaiming the People’s Right to a Balanced and Healthful Ecology’

(Delivered on October 16, 2013 at the Senate of the Philippines)

Mr. President, I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege….

During the period when I was preparing this privilege speech, I received a letter from an octogenarian, 89-year-old Mr. Rodrigo De Los Reyes, who has been a resident of Las Piñas City for 51 years or since 1962. His property stands along Aldana Avenue in Manuyo Uno, in an area which is almost the boundary line between Paranaque and Las Piñas.

In his letter, Mr. Delos Reyes narrated that during the earlier decades, living in the said area was sheer joy for him and especially for his wife (a polio victim) who was confined to a wheelchair. They enjoyed the company of good neighbors in an almost idyllic surrounding. The frontage in their backyard provided them (in his own words) “with an unobstructed view of the Manila Bay and the fabulous sunset over the far horizon”.

He said the idyllic scenario changed with the development of Manila Bay, specifically the Cavite Coastal Highway that started in the early 1980s and succeeding reclamations and constructions that took place. According to him, the poor planning and implementation of the project, has caused damage and so much inconveniences for those living around their area in Las Piñas/Paranaque. Foremost of which is massive flooding as even the lagoon near their area was reclaimed, rendering their area as a virtual catch basin. Mr. Delos Reyes provided us with photos to substantiate his complaints.

Mr. Delos Reyes, over the decades, has discussed his problems personally to those involved in various development/construction works that were implemented around his property—including with the Public Estates Authority (PEA) and recently (on August 12) to its new entity, the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA).  But until now, his letters and pleas were met with unresponsiveness and inaction.

The plight of Mr. Delos Reyes is actually nothing new to me. I have heard hundreds of similar stories. I highlighted his situation because he really exerted effort in diligently documenting everything—from copies of his correspondence with authorities, sketch of the development projects and various photos—which put everything in context and perspective.

Also, we are struck by the fact that if this man who lives in better circumstances in his solidly built, well-off property was heavily inconvenienced (almost to the point of being tormented) by the reclamation going on around him. We can only imagine what the less privileged residents go through? The families in poorer communities around the areas in question, whose houses are not made of strong granite and heavy wood such as the home of Mr. Delos Reyes. These folks, unlike Mr. Delos Reyes— who has the financial means to repair the damages to his property, have no such recourse.

Ang karamihan sa mga residente na nakapanayam ko ay walang ibang magawa kundi lumikas kung kinakailangan na at maglimas ng baha sa kanilang mga tahanan pagkatapos ng bawat pagbaha.

Maaari ko nang idadagdag si Mr. Delos Reyes sa 315,849 na mga residenteng Las Piñas na naninindigan laban sa reclamation. Sila ang mga taong sumuporta sa aking petisyon laban sa planong patuloy na reclamation sa Manila Bay na makakaapekto sa 65 na barangay sa tatlong syudad (37 sa Bacoor, 11 sa Paranaque, at 17 sa Las Piñas). As most of you are aware of, we have just recently elevated our petition to the Supreme Court. On October 10, we filed a petition for review on certiorari to again challenge the ruling of the Court of Appeals, which favored a planned reclamation project in Manila Bay.

This leads us to the question: how far along are we in our bid to reclaim portions of our seas and coasts? We know that the government’s National Reclamation Plan (NRP) will involve 102 projects or 38,000 hectares all over country. And 38 of these reclamation projects encompassing 26,234 hectares will be implemented in Manila Bay area alone—that is 70 percent of the entire NRP.  They are building another Metro Manila in Manila Bay.  As I cited earlier, I and other residents of Las Piñas, Parañaque, and parts of Cavite are opposed to one of those 38 reclamation projects planned in Manila Bay— the proposed reclamation of the 635.14-hectare of Manila Bay, around the 175-hectare  Las Piñas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area or LPPCHEA, which is a protected area by virtue of Presidential Proclamation Nos. 1412 and 1412-A and included in the Ramsar list of wetlands of international importance, along with Tubbataha and the Palawan Underground River.

I believe that this esteemed body, or us as legislators, needs to be informed and updated about the extent of reclamation, those that will be undertaken in the near future and those in the pipeline. After all these reclamation projects will affect our constituents. Those planned for Metro Manila will have far-reaching impact on several nearby provinces of Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, and Bataan.

Of course, there are other big reclamation planned in Cebu’s Mactan Channel, covering 6,000 hectares in Cordova, Talisay, Lapu-Lapu, Naga, Minglanilla, Mandaue, and Consolacion; 1,280 hectares in Antique and 1,200 hectares in Leganes, Iloilo. The others will be in Panglao, Bohol (650 hectares), Negros Occidental (253 hectares), Aklan (240 hectares), Albay (240 hectares), Davao Gulf (238 hectares), Leyte (233 hectares), and Cagayan (220 hectares).

Of all people, we do not want to be remiss in this government plan (the NRP) that will affect not only majority of Filipinos but will also create an impact in the very communities that we live in. Were the people consulted about it? How were the projects under NRP approved? Was there due diligence done? Were environmental risks taken into consideration? And to quote the question posed by a geologist: Is “science again being blithely ignored by the financial interests and government authorities promoting the various reclamation projects”? These are questions that need to be answered.

Mr. President, the right to a balanced and healthful ecology is an enforceable legal right under the Philippine Constitution, which contains various environment-related provisions. To think also that the Philippine environmental legislation has also been considered as among the most progressive in South East Asia. But the various degradation, depletion and destruction of ecosystems in the country provides a stark contrast to those constitutional provisions and legislations.

Let us take as an example the coastal areas, where multiple ecosystems (such as mangroves, sea grass, coral reefs, and intertidal zones) co-exist.  These narrow strips of land and sea, critical elements of the food-producing capacity of our islands, are continuously threatened by a paradigm that is totally inappropriate for our archipelago: Reclamation.

“The 1987 Constitution, for instance, mandates that the State should protect the nation’s vast and diverse marine wealth. In contrast to this pronouncement, resource depletion and destruction of the country’s coastal and marine ecosystems within the Philippine exclusive economic zone has left fish stocks depleted by as much as 90%, sea grass beds destroyed by as much as 50%, and coral reefs degraded by as much as 96%, all in the past 50 years.” (based from a paper drafted by the Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines)

Coastal areas in urban ecosystems are even more vulnerable to deterioration of natural habitats.  We have also lost 75.6% of mangroves in the past 82 years. We all know that a thriving mangrove cover is one of the best indications of a healthy environment or if nature can still support life in an area.

Ang mga mangroves ay ang pinakamabisang pananggalang natin sa mga bagyo at ang mga tinatawag na mga storm surges. Mas matibay pa sa kahit anong pinakamatibay na semento o sea wall. Nabalitaan at nakita din ninyo marahil kung paano gumuho ang mga sea walls sa kahabaan ng Roxas Boulevard noong tayo ay sinalanta ng bagyong Pedring noong 2011. Ang iba pang istruktura, pati na ang nasa U.S. Embassy, ay nasira dahil sa storm surges. Samantala, sa amin sa Las Piñas, ang mga mangroves na aming itinanim ay nagsisilbing sapat na proteksyon laban sa mga storm surges.

Ang mga mangroves na ito rin ay mahalaga sa ating mga mangingisda, dahil dito nangingitlog ang mga isda at kung saan namamahay ang maliliit na isda. As cited by Center for Oceans Solutions, “the destruction of large areas of mangrove forest can result in lower incomes from fishing, reduced local food production and extreme poverty; destructive fishing techniques produce the same impacts”.

Eminent mangrove expert Dr. Primavera says that mangroves will survive only if the tidal flow does not change, they remain at or above mean sea level and they are the right mangrove species for that site.  And reclamation will change all that, which will lead to the death and the destruction of the mangroves.

It cannot be overemphasize that any reclamation constitutes a triple strike within a triple strike against our remaining natural areas.  1) It destroys the source of the fill material by scraping and quarrying; 2) the part of the sea to be filled consisting of at least three types of ecosystems will no longer be viable nor life-supporting and; 3) the surrounding areas that will be forever changed due to hydrologic and migratory route changes.

Academician Fernando Siringan of UP Diliman’s Marine Science Institute and his colleagues have documented that Metro Manila’s coastal areas are sinking as fast as 3 ½ inches every year. And Dr. MaharLagmay’s Volcano-Tectonics Laboratory at U.P Diliman’s National Institute of Geological Sciences has used sophisticated, precise satellite data to verify subsidence over wide areas of Metro Manila, with the proposed reclamation areas experiencing up to 2 inches per year.

In short, lumulubog na po ang Metro Manila at iba pang bahagi ng ating bansa, na talagang nakakaalarma. Leveling data from the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (Namria) reveal areas in Metro Manila that sank 0.68 meter to 1.34 meters in 30 years (from 1979 to 2009).

In fact, Dr. Kevin Rodolfo cited that “The land is subsiding about 30 times faster, mainly from over-pumping of groundwater. Reclamation may well speed up the sinking of the land, from withdrawal of groundwater, or from the added weight of new buildings, or both.”

At  hindi naman pwede tambakan ng tambakan lang natin lagi ang mga ito. In fact, ang walang kapararakan na pagtatambak ay isa rin sa mga problema, katulad nga ng inireklamo ni Mr. Delos Reyes. He cited in his letter that PEA ground-filling “raised their developed land level by some 12-13 feet above the ground level of adjacent lands”. Kaya naging catch-basin ang kanilang area, sinasalo nila ang lahat ng tubig-baha mula sa mas matatas na kalye o lugar.

We should also remember that all bayfill materials, natural or man-made, are masses made up of pieces of rock ranging in size from tiny particles of clay to large boulders.  Spaces between the solid pieces are occupied by water.  Under normal conditions, the solid particles are in contact, so that the lower ones bear the weight of other grains above them as well as any buildings on top of them.  Nagkakaroon ng surface movement at pati na pagguho na delikado kapag lumindol. Nagiging shaky ang foundation at ang mga buildings o bahay ay maaaring lumubog o tumumba.

That is what happened when the six-story Ruby Tower on Doroteo Jose and Teodora Alonzo streets in Sta. Cruz, Manila collapsed during an Intensity 7 earthquake on August 2, 1968 or 45 years ago. That was one of the biggest disasters in our lifetime—more than 600 tenants of the building died.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency or JICA has in fact released a study: the “2004 earthquake impact study for Metro Manila” where it cited that   Metro Manila is overdue to experience a catastrophic magnitude 7.2 earthquake and the coastal areas would suffer the most, due to liquefaction (the reclaimed land reverts to a liquid state). It also emphasized that we are not ready for such an eventuality. The JICA study created 18 earthquake scenarios. Three of the scenarios—the West Valley Fault, the Manila Trench and the 1863 Manila Bay—could severely impact Metro Manila, based on the study.

The JICA study gives a somber and sobering worst-case scenario: 170,000 residential houses will collapse; 340,000 residential houses will be damaged; 34,000 people will die; 114,000 will be injured; fires will break out and burn approximately 1,710 hectares and could kill 18,000 or more people.

Going back to my point…this leads us to ask: bakit nga ba kailangan mag-reclaim in the first place? Why not develop the blighted areas of the metropolis instead?  The amount to be used to reclaim, instead of destroying ecosystems and driving reclaimed lands to sell for sky high prices, could be used for inclusive development and urban renewal of Metro Manila. There are so many communities that need urgent attention and investment as far as development is concerned.

Besides its socio-cultural and economic consequences, the environmental impact of reclamation projects begs for our attention. In regulating reclamation projects… issues of subsidence and liquefaction, habitat loss in multiple ecosystems, among others should be factored in as well. Can our current regulatory regimes protect us from these threats?

The Environmental Management Bureau or EMB of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) accepts vague promises from proponents, because they say the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) system is merely a planning tool, meant to ensure that the proponent does what it could.  As such, proponents are not even required to say what they will do, only that they will take the “appropriate measures” to mitigate adverse impacts, never mind that the proponents cannot even show financial capacity to undertake the project much less what they promise in terms of mitigation.

As such, proponents get away with generalizations regarding the ecological and engineering safety and rely on experts whose fields are reclamation.  Hence they are trained to defend reclamation and not to assess the impacts.  And where will these experts be when the adverse impacts start to occur and affect us?

Let me emphasize here the importance of public consultation in a matter that in all intents and purposes is public interest. The common people or the community residents are the ones who will bear the brunt of the regulators’ mistakes. And when that time comes, the projects are well over completed. The people should be consulted when these are still in the drawing boards, in fact even before these are even conceptualized. They have a say because their very lives depend on the outcome of such projects.

I remember, I attended a hearing of the House Committee on Natural Resources in November last year regarding the proposed Alltech Coastal Bay reclamation project that we oppose, we found out that there is really no public dialogue regarding the projects. Some of the invited resource persons confirmed that they were not consulted at all. There was one incident, according to Mr. Alfonso Quinto (Chairman of Unified Marketing and Services Cooperatives of Paranaque Fishermen Wharf), when they were called to attend a meeting but nothing was discussed. Ang sabi nila, pinaupo lang daw sila at pinakain, pagkatapos tapos na rin.

Who then gives the final go-signal for reclamation?  The Philippine Reclamation Authority, which as it is, has a questionable legal basis.  Reclamation should therefore be governed and regulated by an interagency authority.  The reason citizens rely on the Environment Management Bureau (EMB) and its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) system is because it is the only regulation that covers these types of development apart from the PRA.

Let us revisit how PRA came to be. The Public Estates Authority or PEA was established on February 4, 1977 by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 1084 enacted into law by President Marcos. PEA was created to provide a coordinated, economical and efficient administration of lands, especially reclaimed lands, belonging to, managed and/or operated by the government, with the object of maximizing their utilization and hastening their development consistent with the public interest.

Executive Order No. 525 issued on February 14, 1979 provides that “All reclamation projects shall be approved by the President upon recommendation of the PEA.

On October 26, 2004, President Arroyo issued Executive Order 380, which transformed PEA into the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA). The PRA shall perform all the powers and functions of the PEA relating to reclamation activities. On June 24, 2006, Pres. Arroyo issued Executive Order No. 543, whereby she delegated to PRA the power of the President to approve reclamation projects.

On February 25, 2011, the PRA Board of Directors approved the National Reclamation Plan (NRP) under PRA Board Resolution No. 4161 covering a total of 102 reclamation projects over a total area of 38,272 hectares within Manila Bay, Visayas, Mindanao and other locations.

PRA’s NRP and the multiple issues attached to reclamation have gained so much alarm from different sectors.  In a People’s Summit on Reclamation held in October 2012 attended by experts from relevant fields, the resultant call for a moratorium on reclamation projects under the NRP was justified on the following grounds, among others:

The NRP threatens to affect an equivalent of one-tenth of our coastal and marine habitats. These reclamation projects could potentially translate to a loss of a value of nearly P30 billion per year in seagrass goods and ecosystems alone.

Land reclamation is noted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization as an irreversible form of environmental degradation, thus running counter to the State’s guarantee to provide its citizens with a “healthful and balanced ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature” and “protect the rights of subsistence fishermen, especially of local communities”.

The PEA, created by statute by President Marcos was changed into the PRA by a mere Executive Order by President Arroyo.  They do not have budgetary appropriations from Government and are, instead expected to earn from reclamations.

It is true and unfortunate that we treat reclamation as normal.  As if destroying coasts and digging up sea beds are all par for the course, we have a reclamation authority who thinks only of which coastline to dump into next.  There is no other agency with that mandate in the world, and the only other agencies with that word in their names, refer to the real kind of reclamation – the rehabilitation of degraded lands and renewal of blighted communities.

It might surprise us to know that Hong Kong, that poster island for reclamation, as small as it is, enacted a legal presumption against reclamation.  Such presumption can only be overturned if an overriding public need for the reclamation is shown.

In 2004, the Court of Final Appeals in Hong Kong compressed that three-tiered test into one – the overriding public need test.  It further elaborated on what this test requires: a need should only be regarded as overriding if it is a compelling and present need. The compelling need is far beyond “something nice to have, desirable, preferable or beneficial”.

In addition, where there is a reasonable alternative to reclamation, there is no overriding need for reclamation. All circumstances should be considered as to whether there is any reasonable alternative and they would include the economic, environmental and social implications of each alternative. We should, at the very least, have as stringent a standard.  Considering that many areas in our cities are attended by urban blight, we should have an even stricter standard that compels the development first of these areas before any plans for reclamation.

Cost-benefit analyses and project alternatives, therefore, become an absolute necessity for any metropolis to consider if reclamation, with all its concurrent threats and dangers, should be the direction its development should go towards.  Without these cost-benefit analyses, there are very real dangers that would beset the project.

Consider the country’s largest proposed reclamation project—the reclamation of 3,000 hectares of coastal area in the Municipality of Cordova in Cebu, which is if it will push through will be one of the largest land reclamation projects in Southeast Asia. There was study undertaken by Lourdes Montenegro from the University of San Carlos, Cebu City. The said research study was commissioned and published by the Singapore-based Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA).

The study “found that the environmental and social costs of the project would exceed Ph3.3 billion”. It further cited that if the constructions costs and the economic benefits of the project would be taken into consideration, “the reclamation scheme would result in an economic cost to society of over P18.4 billion.”

The Cordova Reclamation Project was put on hold as some government approvals have been withdrawn. Environmental issues plague the project, such as its impact on migratory birds, damage from landfill quarrying, damage to corals (640 hectares of coral reef in the area would be affected by the reclamation) among others. And there is also the economic impact due to the loss of livelihood of fisherfolks in the area (the current aggregate net fishing income in the area is worth P29.9 million per year, the reclamation will remove half of the income.)

The conclusion of the study or the report on Cordova is that the reclamation project is not the way forward. It cited: “Overall, it is clear that the Cordova Reclamation Project, as it stand, is not an optimal development strategy.” One of the options seen is sustainable eco-tourism in the municipality.

The questionable government approval of reclamation projects has been a thorny issue. I am sure that most of us here are familiar with what was dubbed as “the grandmother of all scams”— the PEA-Amari deal.

In April 25, 1995, PEA entered into a Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) with AMARI, a private corporation, to develop the three reclaimed islands known as the “Freedom Islands” along the Las Pinas-Paranaque portions of Manila Bay, and includes the reclamation of additional substantial hectares of submerged areas surrounding these islands.  By the way, the proposed reclamation area of PEA AMARI is the same reclamation area in Las Pinas–Paranaque that we are opposing at present.

An investigation in aid of legislation by the Senate Blue Ribbon and the Senate Committee on Government Corporations and Public Enterprises ensued. The said committees concluded that the JVA is illegal because the reclaimed lands that PEA seeks to transfer to AMARI under the JVA are lands of the public domain, which the government cannot alienate.

The PEA-Amari deal became the life-long crusade of the late Atty. Frank Chavez (who passed away just last month). He was my legal counsel in the petition for writ of kalikasan against the same planned reclamation project, off Manila Bay, that will affect the Las Piñas-Paranaque Critical Habitat & Eco-tourism Area (the former PEA-Amari deal). As I mentioned earlier, we have elevated the petition to the Supreme Court just last week. Among the points that we are challenging is the fact that CA considered the Alltech Coastal Bay Project as a continuation of the PEA-AMARI Manila Coastal Bay project even when the latter never materialized. We question the validity of the issuance of the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC).

To go back to PEA-Amari, Atty. Chavez then filed a Petition for Mandamus where he prayed that PEA publicly disclose the terms of any renegotiation of the JVA; assailed the sale to AMARI of lands of the public domain as a blatant violation of Section 3, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution, prohibiting the sale of alienable lands of the public domain to private corporations. He also asserted that he seeks to enjoin the loss of billions of pesos in properties of the State that are of public domain.

In their haste to get around the decision in Chavez vs PEA-Amari, which disallowed the transfer of ownership of reclaimed lands to private corporate interests, a consultant was hired with funds from the USAID.  A document was submitted to NEDA which points to an old law, RA 1899, to justify reclamation by local governments.

RA 1899 says:  SECTION 4.  All lands reclaimed as herein provided, except such as may be necessary for wharves, piers and embankments, roads, parks and other public improvements, may be sold or leased under such rules and regulations as the municipality or chartered city may prescribe.  If you notice here that the uses of the ‘reclaimed land’ is for public uses only! And therefore cannot be sold privately.  However, the management of such lands can be done with the private sector through lease or joint venture as provided for under the LGC, being the LGUs as corporate entity.

They then rushed to have local governments stand in as proponents, and as a result, many aspects were overlooked.  The first is that even after reclamation by private entities using the local governments as proponents, the lands will STILL not be available for private development. Chavez vs PEA-Amari will still prevail as to ownership of reclaimed lands, as lands of the public domain.  Any land reclamation, regardless of who initiates it (i.e. PRA, private sector, LGU) is considered “unclassified public land” and therefore part of the public domain, which is now under the DENR.  This was conveyed to us by Former DENR Undersecretary Elmer Mercado.

In fact, the Supreme Court also claimed in the Chavez case that the prohibition against private ownership of alienable lands of the public domain “was intended to diffuse equitably the ownership of alienable lands of the public domain among Filipinos, now numbering over 80 million strong.”

Private corporate reclamations whether done through the PRA or local governments, would have to show that this objective is reached.  Experience has shown that the road to reclamation is littered with broken promises, non-inclusive development and the perpetuation of a consumerist and take-all-you-can development model that is not well suited to a world with a changing climate with an ever increasing population. The way to a developed economy is to make public lands productive and benefit a much broader base among the citizenry.

Actually, I have a related experience regarding this point, Las Piñas Congressman Mark Villar wrote to PRA General Manager Peter Abaya in September 2011 and requested if he could use the 100-square-meter, only 100 square meters, PRA property beside the Philippine Councilor’s League, Vice Mayor’s League Buildings and MMDA Transfer Station as the venue of his barangay-based livelihood center for women and out-of-school youth.

PRA’s Mr. Abaya replied and said the PRA cannot grant the free use of the lot, but offered that they could lease the property for at least 4% of the current appraised value of the property. To which, the Las Piñas City government replied that it is willing to lease the said property.

Muling sumagot ang PRA na hindi na raw pwede rentahan ang space dahil may iba daw silang plano para doon, specifically to build a perimeter fence for an ongoing condominium project. But we found out that PRA leased the space to Barangay Ilaya na ang itinayo sa naturang lugar ay isang peryahan. It still baffles us why PRA opted to give leasing priority to a peryahan rather than to a livelihood project that we felt would be more beneficial to more people.

The fact that we have created an agency devoted solely to reclamation, when it brings about such heavy adverse environmental consequences for everyone is against to equitable and inclusive growth.  In the meantime, large parts of the metropolis are undeveloped, badly developed or idle.  Without the prospect of new land, we will be forced to make the latter better.

Alternatively, PRA can set their sights on inner cities and neglected areas for their development and economic goals, and this Honorable Congress could rename it, as the Philippine Redevelopment Authority. More importantly along with that name-change, revise its mandate.

We urge that Congress rethink the purposes, and revisit the powers of the Philippine Reclamation Authority or PRA.

If we cannot save the very ecosystems which provide our people their daily provisions and protect them from catastrophic natural disasters, we are basically denying our fellow Filipinos of their basic constitutional rights. It is time that we stop reclaiming lands. It is time for us to give back to our people their right to a balanced and healthful ecology.

To this end, Mr. President, this representation has filed Proposed Senate Resolution 294 to review the mandate of the PRA as a GOCC while directing the Senate Committee on Government Corporations and Public Enterprises to conduct the inquiry, in aid of legislation, for this, as was done in the past when this Chamber looked into the PEA-Amari deal.

Thank you, Mr. President.


Cheat sheet: Manila Bay reclamation

POSTED ON 03/07/2013 6:14 PM  | UPDATED 03/12/2013 10:02 AM

Manila residents protesting the proposed reclamation of Manila Bay

Manila residents protesting the proposed reclamation of Manila Bay

MANILA, Philippines – The Manila Bay reclamation is a complex issue involving many facets.

It touches on various issues that have earned their place in the hearts of thousands of Filipinos, from environmental impact to heritage conservation to economic growth.

Rappler zeroes in on the center of the topic and brings you a cheat sheet to help you navigate through this multifarious issue.

What is reclamation?

Land reclamation is the process of creating new land from oceans, riverbeds or lakes. Soil is transported from an area to a body of water. The soil is then used to create new land called “reclamation ground” or “land fill.”

What will be built on the reclamation ground?

A 148-hectare entertainment hub dubbed the “Solar city” will stand on the reclaimed land. This size is 10 times that of Rockwell Power Plant Mall and twice that of the Luneta Park, according to urban designer Paulo Alcazaren.

Who are the main parties involved?

The Manila Gold Coast Corporation is the developer contracted by the City Council of Manila underMayor Alfredo Lim to reclaim the land.

They are the same developer that applied to reclaim the land in 1993. But because of fierce opposition from citizens against reclamation, Manila created a city ordinance banning all reclamation in Manila Bay from the US embassy to the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). Gold Coast was stopped.

The S.O.S. Save Manila Bay Coalition is composed of various groups and individuals who oppose reclamation in the bay. Among these are the CCP, Worldwide Fund for Nature Philippines (WWF-PH), Urban Poor of the City of Manila, Heritage Conservation Society, Heritage Conservation Society Youth, the Parish of Malate and more.

The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) and the multisectoral network Koalisyon Kontra Kumbersyon are also against the project.

The Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) is a branch of government tasked with evaluating and overseeing reclamation done anywhere in the Philippines. The Gold Coast application to reclaim must go through this office. The current PRA general manager is Peter Anthony Abaya.

The Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is tasked with evaluating the Environmental Compliance Certificate or ECC of Gold Coast. If the EMB denies Gold Coast’s ECC application, Gold Coast cannot reclaim. The current EMB director is Atty Miguel Cuna.

What legislation has been crafted on the issue?

Proclamation 41 by President Ramon Magsaysay in 1954 reserved Manila Bay as a national park for the people.

Republic Act 7586 issued in 1992 under President Fidel Ramos included Manila Bay in the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 even if some portions of the bay had already been reclaimed.

City Ordinance 7777 was passed by the City Council of Manila on Jan 13, 1993 banning any form of reclamation along Manila Bay from the US embassy to the Cultural Center of the Philippines. At that time, Alfredo Lim was mayor of Manila.

NCHP Resolution No. 19 S/ 2012 protected by RA 10066 and 10086 of the National Historical Commission declares the Manila Bay and its waterfront by Roxas Boulevard a “National Historical Landmark” protected by the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009. This recognizes Manila Bay as “cultural property” and should be protected by the government. The act mandates that the bay “shall be maintained as close to their appearance at the time the area was of most importance to Philippine history as determined by the National Historical Institute.”

City Ordinance 8233, passed by the City Council of Manila on June 6, 2011, amended Ordinance 7777 thereby lifting the ban on reclamation. Once again, the mayor of Manila at the time was Lim.

Briefly, what are the reasons supporting reclamation?

In an official statement on Facebook, Gold Coast says the “Solar city” will stimulate economic growth and provide plenty of jobs. It will have “the first international cruise ship terminal that will bring tourists to the area.”

It also downplays fears that the “Solar city” will obstruct the famed sunset view because it will be located perpendicular to the waterfront (stretching from behind the Philippine Navy headquarters) and not parallel to it.

Briefly, what are the reasons for opposing the reclamation?

The various coalitions against it maintain that the project will exacerbate flooding in Manila.

The reclaimed land will block rainwater from escaping to the sea thereby trapping it within the city. Because the reclaimed land will be higher than the water, it will form a bowl that will keep flood waters in.

The coalitions say that the reclamation will ruin the historical Manila Bay waterfront. The previously uninterrupted horizon will be partially blocked by the “Solar city,” changing the bay forever.

They also cry foul that so many ordinances and national laws were bypassed for the project. The lack of public consultation and lack of transparency from Gold Coast also disturbs them.

For more details, read DOT Sec Jimenez: Entertainment city ‘not been taken up with me’ and The battle for Manila Bay: Citizens rise against reclamation.

What has been done?

Last February 12, concerned citizens formed a human chain along Manila Bay to protest against the reclamation. Over 3,000 people participated. Read about the event here.

An online petition is circulating to persuade authorities that citizens do not want reclamation or the “Solar city.” The aim of the petition is to persuade the City Council of Manila to once again ban reclamation projects in Manila Bay.

The S.O.S. Save Manila Bay Coalition has submitted a position paper to Atty Miguel Cuna of the Environmental Management Bureau under DENR. The paper aims to show EMB the negative environmental impact of the project in hopes that they will deny Gold Coast’s ECC application. Once denied this, Gold Coast cannot proceed with reclamation.

As of the moment, Gold Coast needs only a Notice to Proceed before beginning the project.

What can still be done?

The coalitions against reclamation call on more citizens and sectors to sign and distribute the petition. You can read and sign the petition here.

If you personally know the people involved with the reclamation project, engage them in discussion and ask them to respond to the many complaints against it.

Citizens should demand transparency from Gold Coast and the branches of government involved in the project. At this stage, citizens should be paying close attention to the movements of DENR regarding Gold Coast’s ECC.

In the coming mayoral elections, Manila residents can demand to know the positions of Manila mayoral candidates Joseph Ejercito Estrada and Alfredo Lim on reclamation in Manila Bay. – 

Urgent Request for Nationwide Moratorium on Reclamation Projects


President Simeon Benigno C. Aquino III

Malacanang Palace, Manila

Mr. Peter Anthony A. Abaya

General Manager and CEO

Philippine Reclamation Authority (Public Estates Authority)

7th Floor, Legaspi Towers 200 Bldng.

107 Paseo de Roxas Street, Legaspi Village

1226 City of Makati


Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary

National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA)

12 Saint Josemaria Escriva Drive

 Ortigas Center, Pasig City 1605


Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje

Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Visayas Avenue, Diliman, 1100 Quezon City, Philippines

Secretary Mar Roxas

Department of the Interior and Local Government A. Francisco Gold Condominium II

EDSA cor. Mapagmahal St, Diliman, Quezon City 1100


 Secretary Proceso J. Alcala

Department of Agriculture

Elliptical Road,

Diliman, Quezon City 1100

Secretary Florencio B. Abad

Department of Budget and Management

General Solano St., San Miguel, Manila


Vice-Chairperson Mary Ann Lucille Sering

Philippine Climate Change Commission

Malacanang Palace, Manila


Chairman Felipe M. de Leon, Jr.

National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA)

633 NCCA Building, Gen. Luna Street

Intramuros, Manila

Subject: Urgent Request for Nationwide Moratorium on Reclamation Projects

Dear President Aquino, Madame Sering and Gentlemen:

Warm greetings!

The People’s Network for the Integrity of Coastal Habitats and Ecosystems (People’s NICHE), a network of  scientists, fisherfolk, environmentalists and concerned citizens organizations in different parts of the country, seeks a moratorium on the implementation of the National Reclamation Plan (NRP) pending a fully transparent, independent, scientific, and legal assessment of its ecological, health, and socio-economic impacts.

The NRP target areas include 70% of the coastal areas along Manila Bay (26,234 hectares), affecting several towns of Cavite in Southern Luzon, the Metro Manila coastal cities, and coastal towns of Bulacan, Pampanga, and Bataan in Central Luzon. Other big reclamation plans are in Cebu’s Mactan Channel, covering 6,000 hectares in Cordova, Talisay, Lapulapu, Naga, Minglanilla, Mandaue, and Consolacion; 1,280 hectares in Antique and 1,200 hectares in Leganes, Iloilo, Panglao, Bohol (650 hectares), Negros Occidental (253 hectares), Aklan (240 hectares), Albay (240 hectares), Davao Gulf (238 hectares), Leyte (233 hectares), and Cagayan (220 hectares).

The target reclamation area in Manila Bay is a vital part of a bigger and critical ecosystem.  The affected Bay area from Bataan to Cavite includes the Las Pinas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (LPPCHEA), which has only recently been proclaimed as a RAMSAR site or an internationally protected wetland. The whole Bay area is connected biologically to mangroves, mudflats, sandy beaches, seagrass beds, coral reefs, which links to a network of rivers and estuaries that  act as a drainage system of the Caraballo and Sierra Madre mountains.

Collectively, these coastal ecosystems offer shoreline protection, pollution assimilation, maintenance of nutrient cycles, carbon sequestration, and serve as catch basins, as well as breeding grounds and habitats of our critical fishery resources.

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation have said that reclamation is the most irreversible form of environmental degradation. Although the Philippines has been scientifically found to be at the center of the center of marine biodiversity, years of neglect and irresponsible practices have left 98% of Philippine coral reefs at risk, 75% of mangrove areas lost in 82 years, and reduction of seagrass beds by 50% in 50 years. A reckless implementation of the NRP would surely add to these losses.

Reclaiming the said coastal areas in the scale proposed in the National Reclamation Plan, is bound to seriously alter the natural coastline length of the country, noted to be the highest among tropical countries, and that a recent study by Sanciangco, etal.(2013) has proven to be a major factor for the country’s wealth in marine biodiversity.

Fisherfolks mounted a fluvial parade in support of the call to stop the reclamation in Manila Bay

Fisherfolks mounted a fluvial parade in support of the call to stop the reclamation in Manila Bay

Reclamation will also alter the circulation of the water, leading to reduction in water quality and increased pollution. Changes to the physical natural environment resulting from reclamation can further lead to erosion, increased flood and typhoon risks, high storm surges during tropical storms and torrential rains, resulting to the stirring up of heavy metals and toxins already deposited in the sea floor.

All of these could not only negatively impact our environment, but can also wreak havoc on those who live and rely on the area for livelihood. We consider this to be in direct violation of our rights for socio-economic growth, healthy environment and human rights of the people as enshrined in our Constitution.

Implementation of the NRP would also substantially damage the historical and cultural values in the Manila Bay area. The Bay holds special significance in the fight for Philippine independence, as a historical gateway of trade and commerce for the nation even prior to the Spanish arrival, and as a natural reminder of local history and culture of Metro Manilans.

The NRP is envisioned to contribute some economic gain to the country. Scientific studies indicate, however, that the resulting over-all cost to the environment, the inevitable losses of fisheries and marine resources and loss of livelihood for sectors dependent on the affected coastal areas would far outweigh the projected gain and would be virtually irreversible.

Mr. President, to ignore these would be to violate our socio-economic and political rights, as enshrined in the Constitution as well as your “Social Contract with the People,” where your administration has committed to a Transformational Leadership that shall bring about an … “alternative, inclusive urban development where people of varying income levels are integrated in productive, healthy and safe communities…”

We thus call on your office and the various government agencies to undertake instead, a comprehensive review and a rigorous independent scientific and legal assessment of the Plan’s impacts on ecology, quality of life, heritage, climate, economy and sustainability, in collaboration with the various sectors and genuine stakeholder participation

Considering the above, the People’s NICHE, along with other concerned citizens of the country, earnestly urge you to listen to the voice of the people and reassess the NRP before engaging on a plan that would destroy our most valuable assets: our people and our environment. We hope to have an audience with you at your earliest convenience to further articulate our position.

We hope for your response to this letter, within ten days, pursuant to the provisions of RA 9485, the Anti-Red Tape Act. Thank you.

Very truly yours,


People’s Network for the Integrity of Coastal Habitats and Ecosystems (People’s NICHE)

c/o Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines, No. 26 Matulungin St. Barangay Central, Quezon City 1100

Aquino gov’t want 102 Temptation Islands through land reclamation, says fishers

Manila : Philippines | Apr 04, 2012 at 9:21 AM PDT

By Gloria Madonna Velarde, Sugar Hicap and Ella Mae France

MANILA, Philippines—(UPDATE)A group of activist fisherfolk in the country on Tuesday urged President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to stop the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) from constructing man-made islands through massive reclamation projects.

“We strongly urge President Aquino to stop the PRA which is under the Office of the President from creating left-and-right Temptation islands all over the country.

Imagine, the PRA under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) program of this administration, private developers will be allowed to build 102 man-made islands, and they have the assurance of the Aquino government that they will get what they want in terms of huge return on their investment sealed with sovereign guarantee from Malacanang” said Gerry Albert Corpuz, information officer of Pamalakaya fisherfolk alliance.

The 102 Temptation Island projects to be constructed through land-reclamation include the 38 reclamation projects in Manila Bay that will cover 26, 234 hectares of foreshore lands from Cavite City to Bataan province, the 7 reclamation projects along Davao Gulf which will entail land reclamation of 238 hectares and 50 more reclamation projects in Panay island, Guimaras, Negros Island, Cebu and Leyte provinces.

‘It would be politically incorrect and morally disturbing on the part of Aquino administration to change the geography of the country from an archipelago of 7,101 islands to 7,196 islands with 102 man-made islands at stake for construction under this graphically insane PPP reclamation program just to attract investments and please financial oligarchs and speculators across-the-globe. This is wrong, very wrong,” said Corpuz.

Pamalakaya and Anakpawis party list had strongly rebuked the plan of the PRA to reclaim 26, 234 hectares of foreshore land in Manila Bay. The groups said the reclamation in the historic bay is a top priority of Malacanang and PRA under the PPP program. They said the 635 hectare foreshore area and the 175 hectare bird sanctuary in Las Pinas and Paranaque are part of the ambitious reclamation project of PRA along Roxas Boulevard.

Citing documents obtained from the DENR and the PRA, Pamalakaya and Anakpawis said there are 38 reclamation projects in Manila Bay and these projects will entail land reclamation activities in Cavite, National Capital Region (NCR), Bulacan, Pampanga and Bataan.

The groups said on top of the 38 reclamation projects along the shores of Manila Bay, there are 7 reclamation projects along Davao Gulf that constitute 238 hectares and 50 other reclamation projects covering 5,800 hectares of foreshore land areas that include additional man-made land areas in Cagayan Special Economic Zone (220 hectares), Albay Gulf (100 hectares), Leganes Reclamation in Iloilo (1,200 hectares), Bacolod City reclamation (250 hectares), Semirara Island Reclamation (980 hectares), Kalibo reclamation (200 hectares), Isabel reclamation (113 hectares) in Leyte, Talisay Reclamation (250 hectares) in Cebu and San Jose de Buenavista Reclamation (300 hectares) in Antique.

On December 5, 2011, PRA General Manager and CEO Peter Anthony Abaya formally asked environment Secretary Ramon Paje to issue area clearances for 50 reclamation projects which the PRA wishes to undertake in soonest time possible.

In his letter to Paje, Abaya said the issuance of clearances by the DENR is necessary so the PRA could process applications to reclaim within areas in the National Reclamation Plan (NRP) to ensure that such areas are free of any legal impediments.

The PRA chief said the NRP project was presented to and approved by the Cabinet Economic Cluster Committee sometime in June and July 2011. It said the cluster group had recognized the huge potential investments that reclamation projects in the NRP could generate similar to Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore experience.

Abaya further said other countries are implementing reclamation projects not only by the hundred but thousands of hectares as tool in achieving economic growth and development. He said the PRA is in receipt of a proposal from the Pasay City government for a 50-hectare reclamation project within its jurisdiction along the NRP Manila Bay sector.

On December 12, 2011, DENR undersecretary Atty. Analiza Rebuelta-Teh issued a memorandum to all regional executive directors of the DENR except NCR and Regions IX and XII regarding the request of a programmatic Area clearance sought by PRA for its 50 reclamation projects under NRP.

Undersecretary Teh asked concerned regional directors of the DENR to undertake prompt action on the request of PRA and keep PRA chief Abaya well informed about the status of the request.

Instead of reclamation, Pamalakaya and Anakpawis insisted that the Aquino government should undertake a massive mangrove reforestation program in Manila Bay to save this once highly productive fishing ground from eventual death and destruction.

‘If the Aquino administration and the DENR want to save Manila Bay and bring back its old glory of clean environment, pristine waters and productive fishing ground, the mangrove reforestation, not reclamation is the logical, scientific and logical action to this objective.

Instead of pushing for the privatization and conversion of Manila Bay, the government should come out with a comprehensive rehabilitation plan that will involve mangrove reforestation with the key support of small fishermen and community residents in all fishing villages situated along Manila Bay,” the groups said.

Pamalakaya had been at logger heads with PRA since the early 90s over reclamation projects in Manila Bay. The group claimed that PRA had approved the reclamation of more than 20,000 hectares of foreshore areas along the stretch of Manila Bay since the era of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

The group claimed reclaimed lands in Manila Bay played host to SM Mall of Asia, the President Diosdado Macapagal-Boulevard and pre-Marcos establishments such as the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Folk Arts Theater, the Philippine International Convention Center, the Coconut Palace, the GSIS and the current Senate Building, the Manila Film Center and the Philippine Westin Plaza in Pasay and Manila areas.

Pamalakaya said during the term of former President and now Pampanga congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the PRA reclaimed 7,100 hectares of coastal areas in Cavite to give way to the construction of R-1 Expressway Extension Road Project.

It said another 5,000 hectares of foreshore areas in Cavite City is being undertaken for the expansion and development of Sangley Point as an international seaport in Southern Tagalog.

On June 21, 2007, then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed Executive Order No. 629 directing the PRA to develop Sangley Point in Cavite City into a logistical hub with modern seaport and an airport, citing the R-1 expressway extension project as enabling component.

The group said PRA is “hell bent” to reclaim the 175-hectare mangrove forest along the Manila bay, which serves as shelter for several species of waterfowl and birds. Pamalakaya said the reclamation project in Las Pinas-Paranaque coastal lagoon will also entail the reclamation of additional 635 hectares of coastal waters adjacent to Las Pinas-Paranaque coastal lagoon.

Pamalakaya said during the year 1992-1995, some 3,500 small fisherfolk and their families in Pasay Reclamation Area and another 3,000 coastal and urban poor families along the coastal shores of Parañaque were evicted by the government of former President Fidel Ramos to give way to reclamation projects which is now home of the commercial buildings.

Pamalakaya also disclosed that in Navotas City, there are also some reclamation activities going on. It said that the national government is pushing the North Bay Boulevard Project (NBBP) in Navotas City that will entail the reclamation of not less than 5,000 hectares of foreshore lands to the detriment of more than 20,000 fishing and urban poor families who will be immediately displaced once this national project proceeds. @