MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has announced the start of a review of reclamation projects in Manila Bay, a move the groups described as “welcome” but “long overdue.”
At a Palace briefing last week, Environment Secretary María Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga said DENR had been conducting a “cumulative impact assessment” of some of the reclamation projects in the Manila Bay area. .
“Globally, the practice anytime you have multiple projects in a single ecosystem, you need a cumulative impact assessment and that’s why we’re doing it,” he said.
“We are analyzing the compliance of those who have already started working and we also call them. So, we are talking to those who have already started (recovering land),” he said.
Loyzaga said the agency is investigating possible violations by a party involved in some of the reclamation projects in Manila Bay. However, the DENR chief refused to reveal the identities and details of the violations.
“Since the disclosure of the information is new, they will be called into a technical conference to see if they can come up with an explanation for the observed potential non-compliance,” Loyzaga said.
“We are looking at each of those specific conditions and seeing if they met,” he added.
‘For a long time’
In a statement, the militant fishermen’s group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) described DENR’s recent move to monitor compliance of reclamation projects in Manila Bay as a “rare initiative” that he welcomes, even though it was “long overdue.”
“While we welcome this rare DENR initiative, it has actually been long overdue, because several reclamation projects have already inflicted irreversible damage on marine ecosystems and the livelihood of coastal people,” said Fernando Hicap, national president of DENR. Pamalakaya.
“Abandoned fish ponds in some cities in Cavite could have been converted into productive mangrove areas, but they were removed for recovery,” Hicap said.
“While the thriving coral reefs in said province have undoubtedly been reduced due to ongoing dredging and reclamation projects in Manila Bay. These marine resources could have been preserved if the DENR had not taken its time to take a position on recovery,” he added.
Hicap also urged the DENR chief to work closely with fishing communities and environmental experts to ensure fairness in the review of reclamation projects.
“You need to pay attention to fishermen and coastal residents, who make up the majority of stakeholders, when it comes to the preservation and rehabilitation of coastal communities and marine biodiversity,” he said.
The Popular Network for the Integrity of Coastal Habitats and Ecosystems (NICHE Popular), an alliance of marine and coastal protection advocates, also welcomed the DENR initiative.
“It has been clear from the outset that the scale of impacts from reclamation projects extends well beyond the project coverage area,” the alliance said in a statement.
“In addition, independent scientific assessments conducted by community and civil society organizations under People’s NICHE have repeatedly demonstrated the negative effects of recovery not only on the environment but also [on] coastal communities that depend on Manila Bay,” he added.
In a separate statement, Agham, Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, stressed that the investigation must be impartial and transparent.
“For years, Agham, along with other fishermen and environmental organizations, has warned of the potential ecological and social impacts posed by reclamation projects,” the group of scientists said.
“In fact, mangroves have been cleared in Bulacan since 2018 due to the construction of San Miguel Corporation’s New Manila International Airport (NMIA) project, and fishermen in the area were also prohibited from fishing near the area,” he said. Jerwin Baure, public. Agham’s information officer.
“Meanwhile, fishermen in Cavite have also reported a decrease in their catches due to NMIA-related dredging activities, as sand mined from Cavite is used as fill material for the reclamation project in Bulacan,” Baure added.
Rehabilitate Manila Bay
Despite being long overdue, the DENR’s decision to evaluate the projects remains crucial, as reclamation could affect the agency’s mandate to rehabilitate Manila Bay.
In 2011, the Supreme Court, through a continuing injunction order, directed DENR and various government agencies to help clean up and rehabilitate Manila Bay.
“What we are concerned about is our task in terms of implementing that mandamus which is actually going to be hampered by some of these developments,” Loyzaga admitted.
Loyzaga explained that the reclamation can disturb the wastewater treatment plants that are already installed.
The mandamus was issued in December 2008 following a complaint filed by “concerned citizens of Manila Bay” regarding alleged government inaction on the decline of Manila Bay.
“Allowing, or simply keeping silent about, destructive recovery is a violation of said mandamus,” Hicap said.
Total ban on reclamation projects
However, Agham noted that efforts to rehabilitate Manila Bay would be “rather impossible… if the sea becomes dry land, preventing marine organisms from establishing their populations.”
“While the DENR conducts its investigation, we continue to call for a moratorium on reclamation and dredging in Manila Bay,” Baure de Agham said.
“DENR should immediately implement this moratorium as environmental conservation must be a priority amid the climate crisis we are facing right now,” he said.
“We urge the environmental agency to exercise its full commitment to protecting the environment before it does too,” he added.
People’s NICHE, in a statement, echoed the call to suspend all reclamation projects in the area to prevent further damage to Manila Bay.
“Therefore, we declare a moratorium on such projects until at least this cumulative assessment is completed. In addition to this, we urge the DENR to formally engage community and civil society organizations in assessing the impacts of recovery projects,” the alliance said.
Various environmental and fishermen groups have repeatedly called on the government to unconditionally revoke all environmental compliance certificates for the 22 reclamation projects in Manila Bay on environmental and socioeconomic grounds.
According to Agham, People’s NICHE had already requested a moratorium on ongoing reclamation projects in a dialogue with the DENR last April.
However, two months after the dialogue, the dumping of land on the shores of Manila Bay and the extraction of sand from the seabed in the municipal waters of Cavite continued.
Data from the Philippine Reclamation Authority showed that there are 22 reclamation projects in Manila Bay that are at various stages of development.
According to Oceana, an international nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans, these reclamation projects would cause natural hazards, such as flooding, in the long term.
Previous studies have shown that dumping and filling activities, such as what was done to install Dolomite Beach, would exacerbate the vulnerability of Manila Bay to environmental hazards and extreme weather events, such as flooding, storm surge, subsidence of the earth and liquefaction.
As a result, these projects would endanger the lives of millions of residents along the Manila Bay coastal areas.
“According to experts, Manila Bay is also unsafe for similar coastal reclamation and development activities due to the existence of many natural hazards such as land subsidence (subsidence), flooding, and storm surge from stronger typhoons.” , said attorney Rose-Liza Eisma-Osorio, Oceana’s legal and policy director, previously said INQUIRER.net.
“Now we are seeing this in the recent flooding in Manila, even if there was no typhoon,” he explained.
“We cannot ignore the fact that taking back our shores in Manila Bay is like putting a stopper in a bathtub full of water and shutting off the natural outlet of water to the bay.”
Oceana added that reclamation projects and the illegal dumping and filling of Manila Bay destroy critical life support systems, violate environmental rights and deprive the country’s artisanal fishermen of their livelihood and food security.