MANILA - An opposition lawmaker on Thursday sought government's assurance that the rehabilitation of the Manila Bay was not a prelude to reclamation for infrastructure projects as he clarified a resolution earlier filed concerning the cleanup.
Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao and his peers in the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives recently filed a resolution that initially sought to postpone the cleanup until a "comprehensive and holistic study" is done on how it would affect informal settlers living around the Manila Bay.
The resolution has since been amended to state that the legislators want the suspension of the planned reclamation in the course of rehabilitation, which was their original intent, said Casilao.
The leftist lawmakers "fully support" the rehabilitation but insisted that it should not be used to "disguise" the reclamation of a 32,000-ha coastal area for 43 infrastructure projects.
"'Wag tayong matali lang doon sa konsepto ng paglilinis at 'yung plain and simple konsepto ng rehabilitation kung ang susunod pala dito ay reklamasyon," he told ANC's Early Edition.
(Let us not be tied to the concept of the cleanup and the plain and simple concept of rehabilitation if what follows is reclamation.)
"Ano ang silbi ng rehabilitasyon mo kung magtatambak ka ng lupa at 'yung tubig ng Manila Bay, 'yung look ng Manila Bay, 'yung pangisdaan ng Manila Bay tatambakan mo ng lupa para itayo ang mga proyekto ng Build, Build, Build?," he said.
(What's the use of rehabilitation if you're going to pile land unto the waters of Manila Bay, the fishing areas of Manila Bay for your Build, Build, Build projects?)
Interior Assistant Secretary Jonathan Malaya said he was glad the Makabayan bloc withdrew its initial resolution and made this clarification.
He noted, however, that the same lawmakers opposed the rehabilitation of holiday island Boracay due to fears that a casino would be constructed in the famous tourist spot. This did not happen, he said.
"Let’s not ascribe bad intentions [to] this plan," he said in the same interview.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año is "personally opposed to any reclamation plan" in the area, and the operational plan for the Manila Bay coastal strategy, which was directed by the Supreme Court to be implemented, states no reclamation, said Malaya.
"I think this is misinformation and an attempt to ascribe evil intentions on the part of a good government project which is directed not only by the President, but by the Supreme Court itself through the writ of continuing mandamus," he said.
Casilao insisted that the National Reclamation Authority itself said it has drafted a 2019 reclamation plan for the Manila Bay to form part of the infrastructure push of the Duterte administration.
"Mawawalan ng saysay ang rehabilitation na ito kung itutuloy pa rin naman pala ng gobyerno ang pagtatambak ng lupa to pave the way for private projects, malalaking negosyo," he said.
(The rehabilitation will lose its value if the government will continue to dump land to pave the way for private projects, big businesses.)
He added that a casino had secured permits to build in Boracay and that its construction was only halted after public clamor against it and a pronouncement from President Rodrigo Duterte against its construction and operation in the holiday island.
Thousands of volunteers trooped to Manila Bay last Sunday to kick-off weekly cleanups Año had ordered local governments to mount in their respective areas.
The rehabilitation of the bay, famous for sunset-watching but plagued by a waste problem, was set after Duterte warned businesses in the vicinity to comply with environment regulations or face closure.