By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Environmentalists and fisherfolk rejoice.
The Bohol chapter of the fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) Bokkana-Bohol and the alliance Defend Panglao Movement scored a victory recently after the Provincial Board of Bohol officially handed down its decision scrapping the controversial Panglao Reclamation Project.
Last December 2, the local government announced its decision to scrap the proposed controversial man-made island project within Panglao Bay. The project has, since its inception, been met with protests from various sectors. The axed Panglao Reclamation Project was the result a joint venture agreement finalized at the end of the term of former Bohol governor Erico Aumentado between the Oasis Leisure Islands and Development, Inc. (OLIDI) and the provincial government.
In the original project proposal, OLIDI described what it intended to do to the cluster of islands which fell within the scope of the project . Some 150 hectares were targeted for commercial and recreation areas, convention centers, hotels and other facilities; the second island, which spanned also some 150 hectares, was intended as location for institutional and residential, spas and medical tourism facilities. The third island, which has an area of 75 hectares, was meant to house small commercial establishments such as dive and souvenir shops, as well as apartment for employees.
Project proponents intended the fourth island of 70 hectares to be developed into a nature park or camping grounds or fishing for commercial use.
Clear and present danger to biodiversity
Vice Gov. Concepcion Lim announced the approval of three measures against the project. These measures were recommended by the joint environment-tourism committee presented during the council’s regular session. During the deciding session, the project was finally deemed destructive to the environment. The new resolution drafted in eight pages cancels/rescinds the project.
“ The proposed project “presents a clear and present danger to the healthy biodiversity and sensitive marine environment within the offshore area of Panglao Bay,” the committee recommendation said.
In the meantime, the second measure authorized the Governor’s Office to “withdraw the application for reclamation filed with the Philippines Reclamation Authority. The local government also approved the third resolution which stands against the establishment of any form of reclamation within the shores of Panglao Island.
Local officials have been quoted by the media as justifying their move to junk the reclamation project as a service to the environment. They said their decision was based on narrative findings on legal, social/economic and environmental considerations. They said the project was a “grossly disadvantageous transaction” since the province has “totally surrendered its environmental and zoning responsibilities” to the project proponent.
Officials also pointed out that the province “will be incurring costs” that are not being considered by the proponent. They also asserted that the OLIDI is “not qualified to undertake” the project because it has no business track record to speak of and it was only newly registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with a capitalization of only P12 million ($279 thousand) represented by a group under Norris Oculam.
The lawmakers also admitted that the decision to scrap the proposed reclamation was anchored on the strongly worded recommendation done by a Manila based group of top-notch Boholanos composed of “physical, economic, political scientists and legal experts,” who expressed strong objection to the project.
The council also argued that former governor Aumentado did not have any authority to effect the project. It added that what was given to the ex-governor was only for negotiation and that no resolution was passed allowing the former governor to enter into and sign a contract with the reclamation proponents. ” Hence, it concluded that the JVDA (Joint Venture Development Agreement) “is unenforceable against the provincial government” and OLIDI “cannot demand from the current administration confirmation of the reclamation phase.”
Reacting to the decision, Oculam said his group will explore other legal measures to be taken against the provincial law making body for scrapping the supposedly joint venture agreement. He said the move can be perceived as an “anti-investment” stance of the provincial government, he said.
A giant blow against reclamation giants
Pamalakaya national chairperson Fernando Hicap described the Bohol council’s decision as “a giant kill against reclamation giants who want to make money from privatizing the coastal waters of Bohol province. “
“We are happy with the decision. It is long-running legal and political battle. Finally the fisherfolk of Panglao have won their battle against corporate interest and bureaucrat capitalists in relation to the reclamation project,” said Hicap.
The Pamalakaya leader said the decisive battle and victory in Panglao should inspire other fishing communities with ongoing fight against reclamation. Hicap said coastal communities along Manila Bay and Laguna Lake, Cordova in Cebu and Boracay in Aklan province are currently embroiled in a class war against reclamation projects.
Hicap said credit should go to Bokkana-Bohol, Anakpawis party list and Defend Panglao Movement which organized the people to oppose the destructive project and rally other concerned groups to join the protest movement against the reclamation project.
Last July, almost 500 activists representing various organizations in 43 countries called on the administration of Benigno Aquino III to scrap the Panglao reclamation project and three others for their foreseeable negative impact on the livelihood of fisher folk and marine biodiversity.
In a resolution passed during the 4th Assembly of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) held in Manila on July 7-9, the delegates called for a stop to ongoing and planned reclamation projects in Caticlan-Boracay in Aklan, Manila Bay, Laguna de Bay and Panglao Island.
“The Philippine government should now seriously review its policy on reclamation of coastal areas, given the impact of this economic activity to fisherfolk livelihood, community rights and marine environment,” read the resolution which Pamalakaya introduced. The resolution was approved by 480 delegates coming from 43 countries including the United States, Canada, Argentina, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Ecuador, Mexico, South Africa, Kenya, Senegal, Cameroon, Burundi, Italy, Belgium, Greece, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Japan, South Korea, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines.