Fisherfolk and environmental groups called for the termination of all Manila Bay reclamation projects, including the unnamed exception in President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s announcement, in a press briefing held yesterday at Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment’s (Kalikasan PNE) office.
Marcos announced last Monday that all Manila Bay reclamation projects will be suspended and reviewed, save for one that he did not disclose, to investigate problems of implementation and effects on surrounding rivers and areas.
Environment experts from the World Economic Forum already flagged these projects months ago for their posed risks in contributing to rising sea levels that could worsen flooding in surrounding areas. The ongoing reclamation has also led to the displacement of fisherfolks and other communities in addition to the destruction of coral reefs and harm to marine animals.
Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA), Oceana Philippines, and other allied organizations of the People’s Network for the Integrity of Coastal Habitats and Ecosystems (People’s NICHE) demanded that Manila Bay be declared a reclamation-free zone as damages to the bay’s environment and coastal communities persist.
Economy Over Ecology
Concerns regarding the environmental and social ramifications of reclamation have long been echoed by the groups in continuous protests, even back in 2017. Despite the urgency of these issues, however, the postponement was only called after the massive flooding in Bulacan and Pampanga, suspected to have been aggravated by the construction efforts in Manila Bay.
Both provinces were placed under a state of calamity last week due to extreme flooding caused by the southwest monsoon. This was exacerbated by recent typhoons Egay and Falcon.
While these flooding consequences have only surfaced recently, other problems such as the forced eviction of fisherfolk communities have been around since 2019. Over 300 fisherfolk families in Bulacan, Bulacan and 1,000 in Bacoor, Cavite have been displaced to make way for the reclamation projects in Manila Bay, according to PAMALAKAYA Secretary General Salvador France.
Local fisherfolks were forced to relocate to residences from the National Housing Authority (NHA) in landlocked Ibaan, Batangas where their livelihoods became unsustainable. Though some still live there, others would return to the Las Piñas–Parañaque area of Manila Bay in rafts where they would fish and sleep.
“Doon sa tatlong taon na nila ngayon na humihigop ng hangin, walang laman ang tiyan [nila] dahil walang dagat doon at walang hanapbuhay,” France said, demanding that these communities be brought back to their old homes and compensated with moral damage fees.
France also lamented the fisherfolks’s decreasing earnings contrasted against the profits already wealthy business moguls expect to gain, as these reclamation projects are mostly run by private construction firms, with some being joint ventures with the local government.
The mangrove forests, mudflats, and coastal ecosystems are also victims to the damages caused by reclamation efforts, Oceana Philippines’s Rose Liza Eisma-Osorio outlined. “Nag-coconduct sila ng cumulative assessment, pero we wonder if this is too late,” she lamented.
The groups also called to cease the construction of in-water infrastructure such as the Bataan–Cavite Interlink Bridge as although they are not reclamation projects, their effects on the environment ring similar. They also endanger sea turtles and whale sharks, among other marine animals.
Days have already passed since Marcos’s announcement, but no official memorandum or written document outlining the terms for the cumulative impact assessment have yet been released or made public. But People’s NICHE groups demanded that one be served immediately.
Though the advocacy groups still insist on the total cessation of all reclamation projects, they still implored the government to at least include civic society groups in the drafting of the memorandum or conduct of the assessment.
Even without a formal written order from Marcos, however, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Chief Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga announced that all 22 projects were immediately suspended and are under review.
PAMALAKAYA cited 23 ongoing reclamation projects, stating that only San Miguel Corporation’s New Manila International Airport was unlisted under the Philippine Reclamation Authority. This 2,500-hectare project is also what the groups believe to be the exception concealed by Marcos.
Loyzaga expressed the need for a cumulative impact assessment last month, but preparations were only set forth after the US Embassy raised security risks due to one of the projects’ ties to a Chinese firm blacklisted by the US. The embassy mentioned the environmental impact of the reclamation only as an afterthought.
Reclamation is not isolated to Manila Bay as over 30 projects are in various stages of implementation and proposal in other areas in the Philippines. Advocacy groups stay opposed to all reclamation developments across the country. ●
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