POSTSCRIPT / February 7, 2019 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Pushing Manila Bay to its final sunset

ICONIC Manila Bay is being smothered and pushed away to its final sunset, another victim not only of pollution, but also of inordinate commercial reclamation masked as progress.

With numerous reclamation projects being rushed by influential businessmen and their patrons in government, the bay loved by generations of Filipinos and foreigners will soon recede farther away from historic Roxas Blvd. as it is buried piecemeal by land developers.

Go and get one last glimpse of the endangered bay before it is taken away literally for interment.

There is no doubt that the bay, which is the virtual septic tank of some 13 million people packed into the 16 cities and one town of Metro Manila, is in bad need of quick rehabilitation. But it also cries for protection from operators poised to make billions by filling up the bay’s choice sections.

With the metropolis already heavily built up and almost choking to death, we submit that development planning be redirected to the countryside to decongest and make the national capital more livable, while sharing progress and opportunities with the regions.

There are numerous bays elsewhere suitable for reclamation and development into mixed-use urban communities, freeport zones, sports-tourism sites and logistics hubs. But it seems that politicians and their business partners see in Manila Bay a golden opportunity to make quick millions.

Pamalakaya, a group of fishermen, said that 43 reclamation projects of all sorts will cover more than 32,000 hectares of the 194,400-hectare bay whose waters wash a 190-kilometer coast running through Cavite, Parañaque, Pasay, Manila, Malabon, Navotas, Bulacan, Pampanga and Bataan.

Officials who control the review and approval of commercial reclamation should — to borrow the words of then Socio-economic Secretary Romulo Neri — “moderate their greed” and not rush to pocket payoffs in their waning days in power or in their fund-raising for the May election.

We wonder if the meter would tick faster for gigantic bay projects now that authority for their approval has been funneled to one man – President Duterte — acting through a revamped Philippine Reclamation Authority placed under his direct control.

President Duterte’s Executive Order No. 74, whose content was released Monday after news of its issuance broke out, provides:

“The PRA shall be under the control and supervision of the OP, while the power of the President to approve all reclamation projects shall be delegated to the PRA Governing Board. Such delegation, however, shall not be construed as diminishing the President’s authority to modify, amend or nullify the action of the PRA Governing Board.”

It is interesting that one bay reclamation project has been awarded to Dennis Uy, a fast-rising star from Davao City described as a crony of the President. His 265-hectare project, called Pasay Harbor City, is estimated to cost P62 billion.

Uy’s project reportedly had seen some delay in the National Economic and Development Authority.  But under EO-74, reclamation ventures will no longer need NEDA approval but only its opinion as to their being “consistent with national and regional development planning and programming, and government national priorities.”

Malacañang explained that EO-74 will “increase competitiveness, promote ease of doing business, and rationalize and streamline functions of agencies to facilitate efficient delivery of government services.”

The PRA is now required to get the opinion — not approval — of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as to a project’s sustainability and compliance with environmental laws, and of the Department of Finance as to its economic and fiscal viability.

Although Duterte had many times voiced vigorous dislike for public bidding, this time his EO-74 requires reclamation projects to undergo competitive public bidding. Malacañang did not explain what or who changed his view.

Meanwhile, the DENR and the Department of Health warn that Manila Bay is heavily polluted, especially with fecal coliform. But beach crowds have taken to the filthy water in the wake of media releases that the administration has cleaned Manila Bay like it did Boracay beach.

Manila officials are excited over big-ticket reclamation, including the 419-hectare Horizon Manila Project carrying a P100-billion tag. In Bulacan, reclamation is also part of the San Miguel Corp. plan to build a ₱735.63-billion airport-city on a 2,500-hectare bayside site in Bulakan town.

 Reclamation bad for coastal villages

PAMALAKAYA fishermen said through their national chair Fernando Hicap that while they supported the cleanup of the stinking bay, they opposed reclamation that destroys the marine ecosystem and displaces coastal villages.

“This EO-74 will hasten not only the approval of reclamation projects in Manila Bay and throughout the archipelago, but also the destruction of the marine environment and the displacement of fishing communities,” he said.

Hicap cited the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area, the first critical habitat to be declared in the country, as among those threatened by haphazard reclamation.

Aside from Horizon Manila Project (419 hectares), a P100-billion proposal backed by Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada, various types of reclamation on Manila Bay listed by pro-environment groups include:

Manila Solar City (148 ha), New Manila Bay International Community (407.42 ha), Expansion of Manila North Harbour Center (50 ha) in Tondo, Manila Bay Integrated Flood Control, Coastal Defense and Expressway project (18 ha), Navotas City Coastal Bay (650 ha), Baseco Rehabilitation & Dev’t Inc. reclamation (50 ha),

City of Pearl in Baseco (407 ha), PRA Baseco (40 ha), Waterfront Manila Bay (318 ha), SMC’s “Aerotropolis” in Bulakan, Bulacan (1,168 ha), Las Piñas-Parañaque Coastal Bay (635 ha), SM Prime Holdings (300 ha and 60 ha), Bacoor City (944 ha), and Cavite Coast on Sangley Point (2,700 ha).

Reclamation projects elsewhere in the country include: Batangas port, Mactan north (400 ha),  Coron Bay (50 ha), Mabini (8.50 ha), Bacolod City (125.55 ha), Aklan (2.60 ha), and Cordova Bay (1,500 ha).

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 7, 2019)

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