'Dangerous, risky': Experts, officials oppose new reclamation 'plans' in Manila Bay

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 27 2019 08:33 PM | Updated as of Mar 28 2019 02:52 PM

Men wait for the sunset by the seaside of Manila Bay. George Calvelo, ABS CBN News

Environmental groups and several experts have called on the government to declare Manila Bay as a reclamation-free zone, citing risks to life and livelihood. 

Leon Dulce, spokesperson of the People’s Network for the Integrity of Critical Habitats and Ecosystems (People’s NICHE), said the government should also “impose a moratorium on all prospective reclamation projects until a more transparent, consultative, and scientifically sound coastal development policy is established.”

Senator Cynthia Villar, who recalled how she led a campaign to block the reclamation of Manila Bay in the Las Pinas and Paranaque, lamented that reclamation was being discussed anew.

“Nakakaalarm at nakakalungkot isipin mula noon hanggang ngayon hindi pa rin tapos ang issue ng reclamation,” she said. “Delikado talaga ang reclamation at linalagay sa peligro ang buhay ng mga tao.”

(It’s alarming and sad that until now we are still facing the issue of reclamation. Reclamation is really dangerous and will only put the lives of people at risk.)

She said the better option was “urban renewal.”

Villar also lamented the possible effects of reclamation on hundreds of thousands of small fisherfolk who rely on the bay for their livelihood. 

Historical evidence

During a 2-day summit, experts presented historical evidence on the negative effects of reclamation.

On Wednesday, archaeologist Vito Hernandez, a senior lecturer at the University of the Philippines said urban developments have historically resulted in more flooding in cities.

“[I see] from archeological excavation, evidence of direct impact of reclamation. We see increased flood vulnerability every time there is some large scale development especially in the bay,” he told ABS-CBN after his talk.

He said flood sediments can be seen in the layers of the ground, making it possible for them to compare it with published reports of reclamation and urban development such as the covering up of the esteros.

Lawyer Jay Batongbacal, director of UP’s Institute of Maritime Affairs and Laws of the Sea, meanwhile warned that reclamation could affect marine life, using Intramuros as an example.

“Very specific ang environment ngayon. Yung salinity na tinatawag. Dagdag yung temperature (The environment of the Bay is very specific right now. There’s what you call salinity. And then temperature),” he said, explaining that the unique environment of the bay made it possible for certain species of fish, mangroves and other marine life to survive.

He said contributing to the balance of salt water and fresh water in Manila Bay are the 18 rivers that flow into it. He also pointed out that reclamation projects were assessed by the government as individual projects. 

“Wala pong strategic na impact assessment talaga itong mga proyekto as a whole,” he said.

(There is no strategic impact assessment on these projects as a whole.)

No go signal

But in a phone interview with ABS-CBN, Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda denied accusations that the Manila Bay clean-up was being done to make way for reclamation in the area.

“If there really is a reclamation, we could have started with the reclamation and ended with the clean-up. Diba mas nakatipid pa ang gobyerno (The government could have saved money),” he said.

Antiporda confirmed that out of the 22 Manila Bay reclamation projects earlier reported, 5 have been given environmental compliance certificates (ECCs). ECCs are required to show that the project will not have a significant negative impact on the environment.

But Antiporda said, “it doesn’t necessarily mean it is a go signal already.”

He said the projects will still need to get the approval of several other offices. 

“If it’s disadvantageous, we will not give them any permit or go signal,” he said. 

Impact on residents

Besides its impact on the environment and the threat of flooding, speakers at the summit jointly organized by Oceana Philippines, Kalikasan PNE, Pamalakaya, and Center for Environmental Concerns discussed how reclamation could affect people living near the bay.
“Maraming tao na matatamaan dito na mahihirap (Many of those who will be affected by this are poor),” Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said.

Dr. Emma Porio, professor at the Ateneo de Manila’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology, also shared how the reclamation in Cebu directly affected over 3,000 people and indirectly affected 26,000 people. 

“Land banking is a way of making money for the private sector. Reclaiming land they think it’s okay not knowing there are social impacts to our life,” she said.

Porio also talked about the rights of nature. 

“We think only people have rights. We think nature is there to serve us. Nature cannot serve us when we cannot respect the integrity of nature.”

DILG Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III, who was invited as a reactor, said he personally opposes reclamation in Manila Bay. 

“Marami tayong kababayan na mangingisda. Di ko alam bakit nila ireclaim ito para mawalan ng kabuhayan ang ating mangingisda,” he said.