Environment & Climate News

US Embassy airs fears over Manila Bay reclamation projects linked to China firm

By Jeanne Michael Penaranda

MANILA — The US Embassy in Manila has expressed concerns over ongoing reclamation projects involving thousands of hectares in Manila Bay, including issues involving the environment.

In a statement, US Embassy spokesperson Kanishka Gangopadhyay said they are in constant communication with the Philippine government about how the projects could potentially negatively impact the environment, the resilience of Manila Bay and nearby areas to hazards, as well as commerce.

The embassy which is located on Manila Bay shore in Ermita, Manila, also raised concerns over the involvement of a Chinese company in the projects.

The embassy raised its concerns as early as 2019 during the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

A Bilyonario.ph report indicated that one of  reclamation projects is spearheaded  by “Plastics King” William Gatchalian who is reportedly fully backed by Beijing. Gatchalian is the father of Sen. Win Gatchalian, former congressman and now Social Welfare Secretary Rex Gatchalian, and Valenzuela Mayor Wes Gatchalian.

The project, which was approved during the term of Mayor Francisco Isko Moreno, which is bankrolled by First Highway Engineering Co. Ltd. with the blacklisted China Construction company, will not only make flooding around the embassy worse (Manila is below sea level and is most vulnerable to sinking), it’s also detrimental to American interests and reputation, the report stated.

The image of a China-backed project towering over one of the US’ largest diplomatic posts will be bad optics for Washington.

There are at least 32 reclamation projects involving thousands of hectares in Manila Bay from Cavite to Navotas and up to Bulacan where an international airport is being built.

Specifically, the embassy expressed concern over “potential negative long-term and irreversible impacts to the environment, the resilience to natural hazards of Manila and nearby areas, and to commerce” of the reclamation projects in Manila Bay.

“We are also concerned that the projects have ties to the China Communications Construction Co., which has been added to the US Department of Commerce’s Entity List for its role in helping the Chinese military construct and militarize artificial islands in the South China Sea,” the embassy said.

“The company has also been cited by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for engaging in fraudulent business practices,” it added.

China Communications Construction Co. has yet to comment on the US Embassy’s statement, which came after an online story said Washington opposes the projects due in part to their link to the Chinese company.

“We continue to support high quality, sustainable, and transparent investments to benefit the Filipino people and will continue to engage with the appropriate authorities on this matter,” the embassy said.

According to published reports, China Harbour Engineering has started undertaking a $1 billion land reclamation project to extend  by several hundreds of hectares the SM Prime Holdings’ Mall of Asia (MOA) complex in Pasay City.

China Harbour, according to reports,  is among a group of Chinese construction businesses working on at least five separate land reclamation projects in Manila Bay that will in effect leave the U.S. government’s bayside embassy along Roxas boulevard  surrounded by reclaimed land.

China Harbour, it was gathered, is partnering with Dutch company Royal Boskalis Westminster for the 360-hectare project, according to Alexander Pomento, vice president for investor relations at SM Prime Holdings, the Philippines’ largest real estate company by market value.

China Harbour Engineering, which figured in a bribery scandal involving a Bangladesh highway project last year, is a subsidiary of infrastructure giant China Communications Construction Co., which oversaw the transformation of a handful of rocks and reefs in the South China Sea into a chain of Chinese maritime and military outposts.

“The company has finalized a selection of consultants and contractors from a roster of reputable companies with proven global reclamation and dredging experience to ensure proper and responsible implementation of the project,” SM Prime President Jeffrey Lim said