“The birds’ habitat, the people’s source of livelihood and protection from storm surges are being turned into just another concrete jungle for the profit of the very few.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – In a forum in Malolos, Bulacan last Tuesday, Sept. 25, the residents of Taliptip in Bulakan, Bulacan, were cheered to hear from a PENRO (Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office) representative that the area and islands of mangroves where they live and catch fish for a living are considered inalienable and reserved for fishing. They were reportedly relieved also to hear that the threat to it, coming from San Miguel Corporation’s project to reclaim the area and build an international airport over it, is not yet written in stone. It has yet to secure environmental permits and present an approved environmental impact assessment.
But the locals came home to news that the Taliptip Barangay Chairman Michael Ramos had met on the same day his appointed local OICs (officer-in-charge) per sitio of the fisherfolk organization in Bulakan, Bulacan.
In that meeting, Ramos reportedly told the OICs the SMC aerotropolis project is pushing through. That it will start erecting fences in the community maybe this November, December or January. The families to be dislocated are reportedly promised relocation. But no details were provided such as where the relocation is, if it is enough for all the affected residents, if they can maintain their present livelihood.
AKAP Ka (Alyansa para sa Patatanggol ng Kabuhayan, Paninirahan at Kalikasan sa Manila Bay) told Bulatlat that Ramos also dissuaded the locals from letting into the community any member of “Kadamay”, which is how the local chief calls the Akap Ka volunteers.
However, the volunteers from AkapKa said local government executives only began speaking of “relocation” after the residents began to protest the project. Nowadays they fear that the local government is trying to divide the residents by dangling the promise of relocation.
Dangerous project being railroaded?
The 2,500-hectare Aerotropolis project of the San Miguel Corporation has been approved by the National Economic Development Authority, but it is not yet all-systems go. SMC is still in the process of finalizing the concession agreement with the Duterte administration, through the DOTr. The latter says no construction will happen this year, but it will decide by December. On the table are the proposed Bulacan international airport, the Clark International Airport and a proposed expansion of Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Even so, reports from locals of Taliptip suggest that the SMC is already eager to start construction. Early this month it agreed with Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez’s suggestion that not just San Miguel Holdings Corp. (SMHC) but also SMC will undertake a Joint and Several Liability Agreement for its proposed Bulacan airport.
The aerotropolis project is an airport and urban complex that includes a plan to integrate the project to expressways. Environmentalist group Kalikasan PNE said this fits into the design of an 18,000-hectare Manila Bay Integrated Flood Control, Coastal Defense and Expressway (MBIFCCDE) Project, a proposed project seeking to cover the entire Northern Manila Bay coastline with an expressway-dike reclamation.
Kalikasan PNE and fisherfolk group PAMALAKAYA have been critical of reclamation projects. They have been opposing the clearing of mangrove forests because it is crucial for the country’s fish production and it protects communities from flooding and storm surges.
Last June, Kalikasan PNE has warned that the globally important wetlands of Manila Bay are threatened with ecological collapse by the San Miguel Aerotropolis and other coastal reclamation projects. The Duterte government, they said, is railroading reclamation projects covering at least 29,600 hectares.
After a combined mission of scientists from AGHAM (Science for the People) and environmentalists from Kalikasan PNE visited Taliptip last May, they saw that Taliptip’s mangroves are part of the remaining mangrove corridor in Northern Manila Bay that could potentially be listed as part of the Ramsar wetlands, which are of international importance.
“Migratory birds come here to feed and breed. Thousands of families are dependent on the bay for their food, livelihood, and resiliency,” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.
Having seen parts of the mangrove forests already cut down and cleared for the SMC project (the locals reported it happened last April), Dulce sadly concluded that “the birds’ habitat, the people’s source of livelihood and protection from storm surges are being turned into just another concrete jungle for the profit of the very few.
He said San Miguel Corporation has already illegally cleared 657 mangrove trees in Barangay Taliptip, Bulakan, Bulacan even if it has not yet secured proper environmental clearances.
The representative of San Miguel Corporation touting the aerotropolis project was a guest of honor of the Bulacan provincial government during the opening of its annual Singkaban Festival. The provincial government gave SMC a venue to sell its aerotropolis project to the audience. Raoul Eduardo C. Romulo, San Miguel Holdings Corp.’s chief finance officer and treasury head touted the jobs it would offer but did not mention the jobs and fishing grounds that would be lost.
SMC promised to construct a USD1-billion spillway for excess water from Bulacan’s upstream river sources to drain directly to the Manila Bay, saying it will resolve the flooding problem of the province. Romulo said the SMC is not stupid that it will build an airport only to be flooded. He said the SMC will do what it can to ensure the airport will not be flooded.
But in a separate statement, Kalikasan PNE warns against relying on that, and against the increased proneness to flooding that would result from reclamation and airport building in the proposed location.
“The waterways coursing from Bulacan’s ridges down to its reefs are complex systems that cannot be simply resolved by just a spillway. If we take the recent torrential monsoon rains as a concrete example, the flood comes not only from the headwaters in Sierra Madre but also from extreme rainfall directly falling on Bulacan’s river basin and from coastal floods,” Dulce explained.
The group also pointed out that the continuing land subsidence, aggravated by groundwater extraction, is worsening the flood vulnerabilities of Bulacan. Add to that, Dulce said, the urban sprawl resulting from the expected influx of over a million workers and 100-200 million air passengers constantly in transit in the area, if the aerotropolis were built, would intensify land subsidence and increase the exposure of populations to flooding hazards.
“Engineering solutions and simplistic development promises are always impressive until you start looking into the devil in the details,” Dulce said.
At present, the locals of Taliptip are alarmed because they are not privy on much of the details of the project, including what would happen to them.