By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Since last year, various groups from all over the Philippines who are resisting government plans to implement public-private reclamation projects have come together in a summit to discuss the impact of reclamation projects on their communities and the environment. About 200 fisherfolk leaders, marine science experts, environmental lawyers and activists from over 50 organizations concluded with an urgent call for a 10-year moratorium on all reclamation projects prior to the stringent review and rationalization of the National Reclamation Plan (NRP).
The Aquino government has tasked the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) to engage in massive land reclamation all over the country through Public-Private Partnerships (PPP). Kalikasan PNE estimates the plan would reclaim a tenth of Philippine shorelines and thus destroy its rich marine and coastal habitats.
Aquino’s National Reclamation Plan (NRP) will undertake 102 reclamation projects covering more than 38,000 hectares of foreshore areas. Thirty eight (38) of these reclamation projects covering 26,234 hectares, or about 70-percent of the target scope of reclamation, will cover Manila Bay. These will also reportedly cover several coastal towns of Cavite province (Cavite City, Tanza, Noveleta, Rosario, Kawit and Bacoor City), coastal cities of Metro Manila, and coastal towns of Bulacan, Pampanga and Bataan in the Central Luzon region.
Outside Manila Bay, reclamation is also planned in the Davao Gulf areas in Southern Mindanao Region (238 hectares), for the Cagayan Special Economic Zone (220 hectares), the Albay Gulf (100 hectares), in Leganes, Iloilo (1,200 hectares), in Bacolod City (250 hectares), in Semirara, Panay (980 hectares), in Kalibo, Aklan (200 hectares), in Isabel, Leyte (113 hectares), in Talisay, Cebu (250 hectares), in Cordova also in Cebu, in Panglao, Bohol (400-hectares) and in San Jose de Buenavista, Antique (300 hectares).
Fishers and experts complained that the government has wrapped up its reclamation plans and started implementing some with irregularities in the processes of project approval, with little to no consultation among the people, scant appropriate assessment of environmental risks and impact, and lack of transparency of concerned national government agencies.
Questionable, dangerous reclamation plans
Participants to the Peoples’ Summit on the Impacts of Reclamation arrived at the call for a 10-year moratorium on the implementation of Aquino’s NRP after discussing various independent and scientific studies such as in Panglao, Bohol, Cordova (of Cebu) and in the Manila Bay. These, they said, extensively demonstrated how existing reclamation projects can potentially result in reduced productivity and biodiversity, disrupted vital ecosystem functions, increased vulnerability to floods, and displace and dislocated thousands of families dependent on the affected environments for their livelihood.
From inputs of various scientific, socio-economic and legal experts, participants to the summit also gleaned that the NRP “was in direct collision to such landmark environmental and humanitarian laws and policies such as the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act and policies on Environmental Impact Assessment, where areas such as mangrove forests and seagrass expanses are defined as critical habitats, or cited as essential to resiliency to disaster and climate change impact, but still being destroyed by reclamation projects.”
Globally, “The Philippines consistently ranked the third most vulnerable country to disasters. Implementing the NRP exposes our people to grave dangers and degrades further the severely degraded environment,” the Summit participants said. They asked the government to “rethink and reformulate its programs and policies on the management of our coastal and marine resources, particularly on reclamation, in accordance with environmental and other relevant laws.”
“The Philippines is one of the richest countries worldwide in terms of coastal and marine biodiversity and resources, with around 2,819 marine fish species and 308 freshwater fish species according to the World Fish Center. A significant portion of our population also directly depends on the fisheries sector for their livelihood,” Kalikasan Party-list National President Clemente Bautista noted.
But all these rich yet fragile biodiversity are threatened by the reclamation projects of the national government, said Bautista.
“Reclamation projects are an irreversible form of environmental degradation,” Bautista said, adding that reclamation “severely contributes to the destruction of our coastal and marine habitats, such as coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds and will pose adverse consequences for the many fisherfolk communities affected.”