By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — The fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) recently protested against reports that President Benigno Aquino III’s public-private partnership (PPP) schemes have included the privatization of 38,000 hectares of foreshore lands for reclamation projects in Manila Bay, Davao Gulf and 50 other coastal areas all over the country.
Citing documents obtained from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA), Pamalakaya chairman Fernando Hicap said some 26,234 hectares tapped for 38 reclamation projects is found in Manila Bay spanning the coastal areas of Cavite, National Capital Region (NCR), Bulacan, Pampanga and Bataan.
Hicap said seven reclamation projects along Davao Gulf alone already cover 238 hectares. Also targeted are 50 other reclamation projects covering 5,800 hectares of foreshore land areas. These include man-made land areas in Cagayan Special Economic Zone (220 hectares), Albay Gulf (100 hectares), Leganes Reclamation in Iloilo (1,200 hectares), Bacolod City reclamation (250 hectares), Semirara Island Reclamation (980 hectares), Kalibo reclamation (200 hectares), Isabel reclamation (113 hectares) in Leyte, Talisay Reclamation (250 hectares) in Cebu and San Jose de Buenavista Reclamation (300 hectares) in Antique.
Hicap said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) should not issue clearances to these reclamation activities of the Philippine Reclamation Authority saying that they will have devastating impact on the environment and the livelihood of residents including fisherfolk.
According to reports, on December 5, 2011, PRA General Manager and CEO Peter Anthony Abaya formally asked Environment Secretary Ramon Paje to issue area clearances for 50 reclamation projects.
In his letter to Paje, Abaya said the issuance of clearances by the DENR is necessary so it can process applications to reclaim areas within the National Reclamation Plan (NRP) and ensure that they are free of any legal impediments.
The Reclamation Authority chief in answer said the reclamation plan was presented to and approved by the Cabinet Economic Cluster Committee sometime in June and July 2011. He said the cluster group had already recognized the huge potential investments that reclamation projects in the plan could generate similar to those in Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.
“Other countries are implementing reclamation projects not only by the hundred but thousands of hectares as tool in achieving economic growth and development,” Abaya said.
In the meantime, the following December 12, 2011, DENR undersecretary Analiza Rebuelta-Teh issued a memorandum to all regional executive directors of the DENR except NCR and Regions IX and XII regarding the request of a programmatic Area clearance sought by agency for its 50 reclamation projects under its reclamation plan.
According to reports, Undersecretary Teh asked concerned regional directors of the DENR to undertake prompt action on the request and to keep Abaya abreast on the status of his request.
Pamalakaya has been at logger heads with reclamation authority since the early 90s over its projects in Manila Bay. The group claimed that the agency had approved the reclamation of more than 20,000 hectares of foreshore areas along the stretch of Manila Bay since the era of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.The reclaimed lands in Manila Bay have been converted into sites for the SM group of companies and its Mall of Asia.
According to the group, during the term of former president and now Pampanga congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the agency reclaimed 7,100 hectares of coastal areas in Cavite to give way to the construction of R-1 Expressway Extension Road Project.
“Another 5,000 hectares of foreshore areas in Cavite City is being undertaken for the expansion and development of Sangley Point as an international seaport in Southern Tagalog. On June 21, 2007, Macapagal Arroyo signed Executive Order No. 629 directing the PRA to develop Sangley Point in Cavite City into a logistical hub with modern seaport and an airport, citing the R-1 expressway extension project as enabling component,” it said.
The group said the agency is “hell bent” on reclaiming the 175-hectare mangrove forest along the Manila bay, which serves as shelter for several species of waterfowl and birds. A reclamation project in Las Pinas-Paranaque coastal lagoon will also entail the reclamation of additional 635 hectares of coastal waters adjacent to Las Pinas-Paranaque coastal lagoon.
Based on reports, from 1992-1995, some 3,500 small fisherfolk and their families in Pasay Reclamation Area and another 3,000 coastal and urban poor families along the coastal shores of Parañaque were evicted by the government of former president Fidel Ramos to give way to reclamation projects which is now home of the commercial buildings.
In Navotas City, other reclamation projects are being currently undertaken. The North Bay Boulevard Project (NBBP) in Navotas City that will entail the reclamation of no less than 5,000 hectares of foreshore lands to the detriment of more than 20,000 fishing and urban poor families.
A danger to ecosystems
Strengthening arguments against reclamation projects, recent reports reveal that it poses a threat to ecosystems.
Reacting to news that some 38,000 hectares of coastal land in the country will be taken over by Singaporean and Hong Kong-based companies and their real estate and commercial projects, the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines said the projects will in all likelihood destroy mangroves and wetlands that are home to many bird species, including some which are already endangered.
The Center of Ocean Solutions, in the meantime, said habitat destruction along coasts and in the oceans results from coastal development among other activities including mining. The research center said destroyed habitats include sea grasses, marshes, corals and mangroves. All of these are important nurseries for fish and critical for buffering coasts from storm damage.
“Habitat destruction can impair and destroy productive marine ecosystems. One major ecological impact derives from increased sediment loads in coastal waters from activities such as logging. Sedimentation, which produces turbidity and limits the penetration of sunlight, affects primary and secondary producers—thus altering food web dynamics. The smothering of coral reefs by sediment also reduces fish and produces ecosystem changes. Coastal modification, besides affecting livelihood, can alter natural drainage patterns and increase salinity, thereby threatening water supplies. It can also exacerbate flooding and storm damage, as well as increase inputs of pollutants and sediments into coastal waters,” it said.