MANILA - An underwater tomb for marine ecosystems.
This is how an ecologist described the proposed 174 hectare reclamation project in Dumaguete City , which has drawn opposition from various sectors.
"I think we really need to avoid this because there is no doubt in my mind that is going to be a monumental ecological disaster. It’s going to be this tomb for marine ecosystems. It’s going to be this underwater tomb," Dr. Rene Abesamis of the Silliman University Institute of Environmental and Marine Sciences told ANC Headstart.
The proposed P23-billion 5G-Ready Smart Dumaguete City project is 174 hectares of mixed use development. It plans on building coastal wastewater treatment facility/wave protection, esplanade, marina, modern ferry port and raw reclamation and horizontal development.
Abesamis said the city government has yet to sign a memorandum of agreement for the Smart City project which generated opposition from many groups.
"I guess the outrage comes from perceived lack of consultation. We have to understand how big this is. According to the press release, it's 174 hectares. That’s equivalent to maybe 4,000 basketball courts, 10 Lunetas. The image that the public information office released suggests its about 7 kilometers—that’s roughly the distance from Cubao to Guadalupe on EDSA—and Dumaguete is not a very big city. It doesn’t have a big coastline. It’s about 8.5 km long and this project is a massive project, it will occupy about 85 percent of that," he said.
The ecologist said the reclamation project may cause damage to Dumaguete's marine ecosystem.
The project could also impact the nearby Tañon Strait, a national marine protected area where about 14 species of marine mammals pass through the waters of Dumaguete.
"We're talking about a thousand basketball courts worth of coral reefs, maybe one and a half thousand basketball courts worth of seagrass bed, and we're talking about at least a 150 coral species, at least 200 species of fish, most of those important to local fisheries. You have turtles. You have seagrass species, mangrove species, quite a lot,” he said.
Abesamis said that while there is no information yet on where the soil would be sourced for the project, some concerned engineers have given rough estimates that it would be needing around 80 million cubic meters.
"That’s probably 1.8 million trips of dump trucks. I can’t imagine them sourcing that from land, and if they do, that’s going to be a huge environmental impact on land kasi you also have to mine that. There is also this possibility that whoever is going to build this might dredge the ocean and dump that on the shallow areas. Those are 2 potential routes,” he said.
However, sourcing the soil from local mountain lands may cause severe flooding in some barangays affected by the reclamation, he said. This may leave residents sandwiched in between the mountain and the coast, he said.
“But if you were to ask me, if you were to develop a sustainable city, the last choice would be to bury marine ecosystems. That would be your last choice. It creates so many problems,” he said.
Abesamis said he is not aware if Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu has given the go signal for the project.
“It deserves scrutiny because its going to create this massive ecological damage and its irreversible. It deserves scrutiny if ever that official go signal was given,” he said.
"There needs to be a dialogue to flesh out issues and say that as scientists, this is what we think and if you listen to us, we could give you a very good idea of what is sustainable."
Mayor Felipe Antonio Remollo said no permits have been issued for the project yet, adding that these clearances would have to be issued by national agencies, such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Philippine Reclamation Authority.
He said there will be more consultations with stakeholders once the project proponent, EM Cuerpo Inc., presents its detailed engineering plans. He said the company, which submitted an unsolicited proposal, has not yet secured the contract as the public-private partnership contract will only be executed once the DENR and the PRA complete their assessment.
"We submit all these objections to the proper agencies. I myself would want to know, would want to require the proponent to prove to us—even the city officials—that this is viable," he told ANC's Headstart in a separate interview.
"I thank the environmentalists for coming out because they can give us their inputs, their oppositions. If their opposition is valid, then the DENR will not approve of it. That’s the end of the project," he said.
Remollo encouraged other stakeholders to come forward with their inputs as this project is "open, this is not a done deal." He said he will "personally hand over to the deciding authorities the oppositions to show his transparency.
"Every step of the way, we will discuss this. Whatever the things, plans that the proponent will have and present to the DENR, I will give it to them," he said.