Environment & Climate News

Marcos suspends all but one of 24 Manila Bay reclamation projects; fishers want cancellation

By Jeanne Michael Penaranda, Correspondent
MANILA –  President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has ordered the suspension of all but one of 24 reclamation projects in Manila Bay in response to environmental, flooding, security and other concerns raised by the United States, environment experts, officials and other groups.
The reclamation projects from Cavite to Bulacan would occupy 9,000 hectares of the sea, bigger than the combined size of the cities of Manila, Makati, Pasay, San Juan and Pateros.
Marcos decision was immediately hailed by groups and leaders like Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, Sen. Cynthia Villar and Sen. Risa Hontiveros  as she reiterated her call to reject all China-funded reclamation projects in the country.
Big farmers and fishers groups for their part said the President should not just suspend but cancel all hte reclamation projects.
Sen. Cynthia Villar who comes from the Manila Bay coastal city of Las Pinas had earlier repeatedly warned against the reclamations which she said would result to big floodings in Las Pinas and nearby areas.
“I am happy that President Marcos is suspending the reclamation in Manila Bay. This is good news to us who are afraid of the ill effect of reclamation which will cause massive flooding in our cities,” Villar said in reaction to the President’s order.

President Marcos announced in Bulacan that he ordered the suspension of all reclamation projects in Manila Bay except for one pending review.

The President’s order came after massive floods hit several Bulacan towns in the past weeks.

Marcos did not specify which projects are suspended, but said that the sea along Roxas Boulevard could disappear due to the reclamation projects.

Before the big floods in Bulacan and Pampanga, fishers, scientists and environmentalists stepped up their call to stop reclamation and dredging activities that they said would disrupt vital ecosystems and livelihood of coastal communities, and could worsen the impacts of climate change.

For one, the Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM), Oceana and PAMALAKAYA warned that reclamation, dump-and-fill, dredging and seabed quarrying would lead to habitat destruction and biodiversity loss.

The reclamation and dredging would also result in decline in fisheries production and loss of livelihood among fishers, and would threaten the country’s food security, they said.

After the announcement, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Maria Antonio Yulo-Loyzaga told a Malacanang briefing that 22 reclamation projects in Manila Bay are now under review and are temporarily suspended.

Loyzaga said the DENR is currently looking into the compliances under which the Environmental Compliance Certificates (ECCs) and area clearances were issued for said projects.

“The declaration is really that all of these projects are suspended at this point. So, all are under review. We have to take our time, really beginning with those that are ongoing, because they are in fact, already impacting the areas. And then, we will graduate to those that are in fact, still not yet begun,” Loyzaga said.

“When the ECCs and the area clearances were issued, there were conditions attached to those ECCs and area clearances. So we’re looking now at the actual compliance to those conditions, and iyon po ang medyo mabigat na trabaho because ang dami po niyan (that is the difficult part of the work) and it involves multiple agencies giving their no objection or objection to the different projects,” she added.

“As soon as the President speaks, I think that will be in effect. And so he actually declared this over the last couple of days, I think, when he was in the Bulacan area for the flood incident,” Loyzaga said.

She explained that as soon as the thorough review of all the projects has been made, companies undertaking the projects will be given a period within which they may be able to correct whatever violations that will be cited.

She added that they will also be guided as to what can be done or not during that period, “and if they do not comply, it’s possible for, of course, the ECCs to be suspended.”

Loyzaga said that all Manila Bay reclamation projects were approved under the previous administration.

She assured the current administration understands the intersection between sustainable development, the environment, biodiversity, climate change, and land-use change, among others.

Thus, they are now looking at the environmental impacts, as well as the social impacts of these projects.

Loyzaga noted that any disruption in any natural ecosystem will alter its function.

“So, when an ecosystem is actually in place, it’s in fact in a state wherein it provides certain services, ecosystem services, such as for example the drainage of flood waters. Then, when that is disrupted by any kind of physical introduction, infrastructure, or digging-up just for any purpose, there will be a disruption in the delivery of that service,” she said.

Loyzaga added that certain sections of the Manila Bay are at zero elevation, while some are actually subsiding, which may have a great impact, especially in cases of extreme weather conditions.

“Looking forward to 10, 15, 20 years, when you have an extreme weather event, what’s important is (that) the ecosystem service of drainage for flood management for example, needs to be preserved and enhanced, especially because the city of Manila and other cities around the bay have areas which are heavily populated, quite well-developed but almost at zero elevation. So, in terms of the long-term prospects, we need to take into consideration (the) climate change impacts on the cities that are involved and in municipalities that are involved,” she said.

Loyzaga noted that geological risk must also be considered, especially amidst discussions of a possible strong earthquake called ‘the big one’.

Aside from the West Valley Fault, she said there is also the Manila trench scenario as previously stated by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, which should be taken into consideration in the long term as well as in the medium term, that may impact everything that is built around the bay region.

Sen. Francis Chiz Escudero, meanwhile, said the government should ensure that appropriate charges are filed against erring public officials or individuals if there are sufficient evidence against them in relation to the controversial Manila Bay Reclamation Projects.

In a statement, the veteran legislator supported President Marcos’ decision to suspend ongoing reclamation projects in Manila Bay, except for one, after he received reports of problems in their implementation.

Escudero, who earlier cautioned Malacañang against blocking the reclamation projects solely on the basis of the United State government’s concern over “long-term environmental impact,” clarified he is not opposing a review “as long as it is evidence-based, and not arbitrary.”

If the investigation eventually finds corruption Xor irregularity in the granting of the environmental permits, they should rectify it if it can still be rectified “taking into account the huge investments involved.”

“Make sure that it will not have any adverse impacts on our environment, given climate change, as well as the safety and convenience of our people in potentially affected areas,” Escudero pointed out.

“Lastly, if any will be cancelled or rectified, appropriate charges to be filed against erring officials and individuals in order to exact accountability/responsibility para hindi na tularan pa ng iba,” he added.

The planned 24 reclamation projects in Manila Bay aim to create new land for commercial and residential development.

“I welcome PBBM’s suspension of reclamation projects in Manila Bay. There are questionable entities involved in those projects, particularly the China state-owned China Communications Construction Co. (CCCC), which has historically destroyed our marine ecosystems in the West Philippine Sea. Dapat hindi na tayo nakikipagsapalaran sa mga kumpanya tulad ng CCCC (We should not be taking risks with companies like CCCC),” Hontiveros said in a statement.

Last year, Hontiveros filed Proposed Senate Resolution 300 to conduct an inquiry into the reported large-scale land reclamation projects being undertaken on a nationwide scale in the Philippines, including the projects in Manila Bay.

In calling for the rejection of Chinese-funded reclamation projects in the country, the senator said two of the six initially approved reclamation projects in Manila Bay are executed by China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd., a subsidiary of China state-owned CCCC.

In the resolution, Hontiveros cited scientist Dr. Giovanni Tapang who said the reclamation of more than 38,000 hectares, of which 26,232 hectares are along the coast of Manila Bay covered by the National Reclamation Plan will translate to a loss of the same area of seagrass, the spawning ground and habitat of aquatic life, leading to an annual loss of 4-7 billion invertebrates and 3-78 trillion fish.

“These China-funded reclamation projects may cause irreversible damage to our cherished natural resources. Ang likas-yaman na nga lang ng Pilipinas ang napanghahawakang yaman ng mga Pilipino, kaya dapat matindi ang ginagawa nating pagdedepensa dito (Our natural resources is our only wealth and we must protect this at all costs),” Hontiveros said.

She also called on the ban of CCCC as a response to the repeated provocations of China in the West Philippine Sea, including the recent firing of a water cannon by the Chinese Coast Guard at the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) last Saturday, blocking the resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal.

After the indignation expressed by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the PCG, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines against the use of water cannons, China, instead of issuing an apology, asserted its baseless claims and demanded that the Philippines remove BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin Shoal.

“BRP Sierra Madre is a Philippine asset that we have all the right to maintain in Ayungin Shoal. We will never allow anyone to forcibly take that vessel out of our own waters. We must draw up other diplomatic and political ways to stand our ground, including stopping China-funded projects on our shores,” Hontiveros said.