By Pia Ranada
March 3, 2014
MANILA, Philippines – "If you believe in storm surge, if you believe in global warming, if you believe in rising sea levels, I believe there should be no Philippine Reclamation Authority."
These were the words of Mike Lu, founding member of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines during a Senate hearing reviewing the powers and responsibilities of the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA).
His opinion was shared by many other stakeholders in the room, including fishermen, environmentalists and heritage advocates, who questioned if it was even in the public interest to reclaim land.
The Senate hearing was called because of news that recently surfaced about massive reclamation projects in Manila Bay such as the 635-hectare Las Piñas-Parañaque coastal bay reclamation near an important wetland and the 148-hectare reclamation by Manila Gold Coast Corporation for a planned entertainment hub dubbed Solar City.
People's organizations complained that the PRA did not conduct genuine public consultations or conduct comprehensive scientific studies on the environmental and socio-economic impacts of the projects.
The PRA is a government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC) tasked with regulating and approving all reclamation projects in the country. It is a development agency which, according to its website, has "created assets for the Government by converting reclaimed lands into valuable and income-generating real estate properties."
Reclamation is the process of creating new land from oceans, riverbeds or lakes that usually involves the dumping of land from elsewhere into the body of water.
Senator Cynthia Villar expressed her concern that even the name of the agency seems to give it mandate to reclaim at all costs.
"Maybe we should review the name of the PRA because it's like their mandate is just to reclaim and reclaim even if it endangers the lives and livelihood of people," she said.
As of February 2011, the PRA Board of Directors has approved a total of 102 reclamation projects nation-wide over a total area of 38,272 hectares. In Manila Bay alone, there are 38 projects involving 26,234 hectares.
RECLAMATION AUTHORITIES. Officials of the Philippine Reclamation Authority respond to questioning during a senate hearing
reviewing their mandate, powers and responsibilities. All photos by Pia Ranada/Rappler
But PRA General Manager Peter Anthony Abaya clarified to Rappler that of the 38 Manila Bay projects, less than 2,000 hectares were determined as feasible by the PRA and even less have proponents or entities interested in carrying out the reclamation.
"Our agency is not a trigger-happy approval agency. A lot of these projects were approved in the past. In our administration, the only project given a notice to proceed was a two-hectare project in Caticlan. That's a port development project to bring in tourists for Boracay. We were very diligent in making sure they had comprehensive studies," he said.
The National Reclamation Plan shown by PRA during the hearing showed 11 possible Manila Bay reclamation projects:
1. Cavite Coast (Sangley Point) Reclamation - 2,700 hectares
2. Manila-Cavite Tollroad Expressway Reclamation Project - 844 hectares
3. Navotas Business Park Project - 650 hectares
4. Las Piñas-Parañaque Coastal Bay Reclamation - 635 hectares
5. Parañaque Reclamation Project - 300 hectares
6. Government Center Reclamation Project - 300 hectares
7. MCCRRP North Sector Reclamation - 148 hectares
8. Cavite Special Economic Zone - 68 hectares
9. Strategic Resource Facility - 60 hectares
10. Pasay City Reclamation Project - 60 hectares
11. BASECO Reclamation Project - 20 hectares
Abaya clarified that some of these are only proposed reclamation projects or lack proponents. But the 635-hectare Las Piñas-Parañaque Coastal Bay project's proponents are the local government units who have already signed contracts with private entities to develop the area.
As for the Solar City reclamation by Manila Gold Coast Corp, the 1992 suspension issued by the Office of President stands despite the lifting of the ban on reclamation by Manila City Hall.
Senator Nancy Binay said the name "National Reclamation Plan" was alarming because it communicates an intention to reclaim.
PRA Board Member Reynaldo Robles agreed that the name is misleading but assured her that it was just a data-gathering exercise to find out the depths of the country's coasts.
"Because when someone who wants to reclaim a certain area approaches us, we aren't able to determine if it is feasible to reclaim in that area. We only made a depth study to find out if there is potential."
He also said the PRA is not the main driver of reclamation projects in the country. It's the LGUs which express their intent to reclaim and enter into agreements with private entities on their own.
For example, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada described attempts to stop the Solar City reclamation as "moot and academic" because it had already been approved by his predecessor Alfredo Lim. Estrada has said he supports the project because it will provide jobs and income for the city.
PROTEST. No to reclamation, say these sunset watchers
Food security, disasters
Various stakeholders oppose continued reclamation for many different reasons. Buddy France of fisherfolk alliance Pamalakaya said fishermen stand to lose both their jobs and their homes if there is more reclamation.
Around 37,000 fishermen were displaced by the Mall of Asia reclamation alone, according to fisherman Pablo Rosales.
"Hindi kami kasama sa 150,000 na magiging empleyado kung magkaroon ng high-rise building, hotel at casino (We won't be part of the 150,000 who will be employed by the high-rise building, hotel and casino)," said France.
Scientist Dr Giovanni Tapang said that the reclamation of the more than 38,000 hectares in the NRP will mean a loss of the same amount of sea grass, the spawning ground and habitat of aquatic life. This could lead to an annual loss of 4.7 billion invertebrates and 3.78 trillion fish, the source of livelihood for fishermen and food supply for the entire country.
Reclamation can also aggravate the flood problems of the National Capital Region, said Tapang.
Reclaimed land blocks the normal exit points of water during rains. it is also usually higher than existing land (which in Metro Manila is already sinking due to land subsidence), forming a bowl where rain water will gather.
This can only be compounded by the threats posed by global warming, storm surge and rising sea levels.
Reclaimed land may also be dangerous during earthquakes since the soil used is not compacted as well as original bedrock, leading to less stable foundations for buildings.
Concerned groups, including Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, have appealed to President Benigno Aquino III to intervene and put a stop to all Manila Bay reclamation projects. - Rappler.com