By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
with reports from Virg Magtira
MANILA – Filipino fisherfolk have expressed their alarm over the 187 proposed reclamation projects in the country, saying that these will destroy productive marine and aquatic ecosystems in the country.
Citing data from the Philippine Reclamation Authority, Pamalakaya said that the proposed reclamation projects covering some 25,000 hectares are not mere statistics but actually pose threats to the livelihoods of small fisherfolk and displace communities residing in these coastal areas.
Of the proposed reclamation projects, at least six are located in Mabini, Batangas, which is renowned for its rich marine life and also dubbed as the center of the world’s center of marine biodiversity.
About 16 percent of the proposed reclamation projects in the Philippines will also be in Manila Bay. There are also 19 proposed projects in Negros Occidental, 15 in Panay Island, 19 in Cebu and Bohol, and 25 in Eastern Visayas.
“It has been long proven by many scientists, experts, and fisherfolk that reclamation is catastrophic to marine and aquatic ecosystems. On top of its environmental impacts, reclamation entails massive displacement of fisherfolk and a consequent threat to local fish supply,” Ronnel Arambulo, spokesperson of Pamalakaya, said.
A closer look at the Navotas project
Among the approved project in Manila Bay is the Navotas Coastal Bay Reclamation Project.
Dubbed the “Southern Gateway to the Manila International Airport,” the said reclamation project is among the four reclamation projects in Manila Bay approved by the Philippine Reclamation Authority in 2019, envisioning “self-contained mixed-use community with industrial, commercial, institutional, residential areas.”
According to the 2020 project’s social development plan, P57.4 billion ($1 billion) of the local city government fund has been allocated to the Navotas Coastal Bay Reclamation project, with P1 million (US$20,818) budget allocation per year, which is supposed to be “utilized for the implementation of activities such as livelihood programs, education assistance, medical assistance, IEC (Information, Education, and Communication).”
Fishing communities in Navotas were forced to be displaced upon the implementation of the Navotas Coastal Bay Reclamation project.
Pamalakaya Chairperson Fernando Hicap said they have received reports that the Navotas local government has denied new fishing permits despite compliance with the business requirements.
Bulatlat tried to reach the Navotas local government but the latter has yet to respond.
Known as the “Fishing Capital of the Philippines,” Navotas has the third-largest fish port in Asia and the largest in Southeast Asia. It is home to thousands of fishermen who rely on Manila Bay’s marine resources, fishing as far as Cavite province.
“Apart from modernization, we need to fight for the exclusive rights of our small fishers in their communities. What is the point of modern technology and equipment if our fishermen cannot make use of this because their fishing grounds are taken over by reclamation projects?” Arambulo said in a statement.
Dangerous to the marine ecosystem
In a phone interview with Bulatlat, marine scientist Jerwin Baure of Agham attributed the rise of proposed reclamation projects to supposed development projects being spearheaded by either the local or national government, or in partnership with big corporations. These, he added, do not usually follow environmental compliance, and often result in the destruction of marine ecosystems and displacement of coastal communities.
A 2017 study showed that despite the seeming poor condition of Manila Bay, scientists found “high abundances of fish eggs and larvae during the northeast monsoon surveys (March) from 2012 to 2015.”
Incidentally, Baure said these larvae were found in areas where there are many mangroves.
“Manila Bay is a big ecosystem that is connected to neighboring communities. All are interconnected. So if you cut the mangroves in Bulacan, that can still affect, for instance, Navotas,” he said.
Will expose coastal communities to more hazards
Baure said that reclamation will also expose coastal communities to more hazards.
Along the coastline of Manila Bay, for one, he said that many mature mangroves are slated to be cut to give way to these proposed reclamation projects. Cutting these, Baure said, will expose communities to hazards like storm surges and flooding as mangroves also serve as a “natural defense” in times of typhoons.
Reclamation can also exacerbate the impacts of sea level rise due to climate change.
“Where will the water go (when you reclaim)? It is possible that it can cause more flooding as sea level continue to rise. Water level can still reach the reclaimed projects, exposing people to more hazards,” he added.
Abolish the PRA, make Manila Bay reclamation-free
In a statement, Pamalakaya reaffirmed their earlier calls to have the PRA abolished, saying it only facilitated the massive destruction of productive waters and coastal communities.
The PRA was created through Presidential Decree No. 1084 under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
Pamalakaya also urged the Marcos Jr. administration to “certify as urgent” the bill declaring Manila Bay as a reclamation-free zone. This, they said, is in pursuant to an earlier Supreme Court order, calling for the rehabilitation and restoration of Manila Bay.