“Over the years, the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) has been complicit with big corporations involved in reclamation and other forms of conversion in Manila Bay, putting the livelihood and other socio-economic rights of fishers at stake.”
By JONAS ALPASAN
MANILA – A group of Filipino fisherfolk questioned the new budget for Manila Bay’s rehabilitation, stressing that the government’s environment department has not been effective in implementing such a program.
“Over the years, the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) has been complicit with big corporations involved in reclamation and other forms of conversion in Manila Bay, putting the livelihood and other socio-economic rights of fishers at stake,” Fernando Hicap of the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said in a statement.
Last week, the Marcos Jr administration suspended all 22 reclamation projects in Manila Bay as they assess its impact on the environment. The DENR has since clarified that there are only 13 projects in Manila Bay and only three are being implemented.
Pamalakaya, however, doubted the 2024 budget allotment of P1.4 billion ($24.7 million) for the DENR’s Operational Plan for the Manila Bay Coastal Management Strategy.
The agency’s new appropriations is in addition to the P1.5-billion ($26.4 million) allocation for the same rehabilitation program in this year’s budget.
Despite the announcement of suspension of reclamation projects, the fisherfolk group said, “We have yet to see it in black and white,” adding that they are still “witnessing the destructive dredging activities off Cavite intended for various reclamation projects across the bay.”
Need for order
In a protest action earlier today, Aug. 15, Filipino climate activists of the Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines (YACAP) urged Marcos Jr to issue an executive order against reclamation and its components such as dredging activities in Manila Bay.
“These projects are destroying the Filipino youth’s future and hamper our constitutional right to a healthy and balanced ecology,” Alab Ayroso, national coordinator of YACAP, said in a statement.
The group said they saw how black sand is dredged from Cavite and brought to reclamation projects in Bulacan for the New Manila International Airport (NMIA) and the Manila Waterfront Reclamation in Manila City.
Ayroso said that such reclamation projects are “destroying crucial ecosystems and carbon sinks that help us mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis.”
On Aug. 13, Pamalakaya also reported seeing vessels engaged in dredging operations in the shores of Rosario, Noveleta, Tanza and Naic in Cavite. This was four days after the declaration of Marcos Jr suspending reclamation projects in Manila Bay.
The fisherfolk group said that dredging activities should also be suspended, adding that it has resulted in about 80 to 90-percent decrease in daily income of small fishers in Cavite since it began two years ago.
“As climate activists, we are committed to immerse ourselves and join the fight of small fisherfolk in order to truly understand what climate justice should be. Our ocean defenders are on the frontline of the impacts of the climate crisis that make it unsafe for them to fish, and now, also against dredging and reclamation projects that also affect their livelihood, destroy our coasts, and lead to worsening impacts of the climate crisis,” she said.
Stop reclamation, dredging
For genuine rehabilitation to happen in Manila Bay, Pamalakaya said that the Philippine government must stop reclamation and its related components, including dredging.
“Additionally, the approved budget must be strictly scrutinized and ensure that it will be used for genuine rehabilitation and restoration programs. We have been proposing a massive mangroves reforestation to revive the abundant marine and fishery resources in Manila Bay,” Hicap said.
Aside from the suspension order, Hicap stressed that those who are involved in such projects should be held accountable, and that there should be “just compensation for fisherfolk who have lost their livelihood, [aside from] rehabilitation of marine resources and coastal communities.”