POSTSCRIPT / January 19, 2020 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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A yellow, not red, light to reclamation

ENVIRONMENTALISTS and people’s organizations opposing further reclamation of historic Manila Bay had better note that President Duterte has flashed only the yellow, and not the red, light to the bay projects still awaiting the green light.

Some objectors to reclamation were somewhat buoyed by the President’s sounding in a radio interview on Monday like he was against the reclamation of the remaining open space in the coastal strip of the 194,000-hectare bay.

Duterte’s statement, however, was iffy: “If it’s an investment to infuse more money into the economy, it seems to be OK. But the hugeness of the area you are trying to reclaim is almost mind-boggling, because that entire 10,000 hectares will surely be for habitation… There might be some offices and some residences.

“I am not ready even to say that I will grant it, not in my time, as long as there is no guarantee that the environment will be protected and the health of the people also safeguarded.”

We see a hint there that if his requirements for environment protection and public health are met, he would allow more reclamation. Left unsaid are the realities of politics, business and personal relationships that could also influence him.

The decision to flash the green light for any bay reclamation project rests exclusively on President Duterte. In February last year, he issued Executive Order No. 74 retaining the power delegated to the Philippine Reclamation Authority to approve projects.

The EO said: “The PRA shall be under the control and supervision of the Office of the President, 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.

Under EO-74, reclamation ventures will no longer need the approval, but only the opinion, of the National Economic and Development Authority as to their being “consistent with national and regional development planning and programming, and government national priorities.”

The NEDA, like the courts, has been regarded by some project proponents and investors as an obstruction. The EO took care of that complaint.

The PRA is now required also to get the opinion — not the 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.

Last month, the PRA – presumably with Duterte’s go-signal — said four reclamation projects have been given notices to proceed: the Navotas City Coastal Bay project, the Pasay project (360-ha.), the Horizon Manila project (418-ha.) and the P62-billion Pasay Harbor City project (265-ha.) said to be controlled by a crony.

They are among some 40 projects earlier submitted for development on a strip of coastal area of 10,000 hectares in Cavite, Parañaque, Pasay, Manila, Malabon, Navotas, Bulacan, Pampanga and Bataan.

Other projects, some already approved, mentioned in earlier reports are: 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.).

Despite the glow of its romanticized image, the bay is the virtual septic tank of some 13 million people packed into the 16 cities and one town of Metro Manila whose sewage is dumped mostly untreated into the Pasig River flowing to the bay.

The bay is in bad need of quick rehabilitation, a herculean job that could be complicated by the massive reclamation projects being rushed.

The iconic 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.

 Duterte’s ‘soft heart’ to carry the day

DESPITE President Duterte’s saying that he was against renewing the franchise of broadcast giant ABS-CBN that expires on March 30, the multi-sectoral crowd arguing for its extension has been growing.

We support renewal of the franchise to help promote the full and free flow of information. If ABS-CBN or its executives have committed any violation of law as the President alleges, we think the proper recourse is to file the complaint in court.

Support has been coming from various sectors, from plain folk to professionals, the entertainment industry, and the families of the workers affected by the closure of the network.

Election lawyer Romy Macalintal shared yesterday his “feeling” that the President’s “soft heart” would prevail: “The thousands of employees of ABS-CBN and their dependents will be considered by the President, including the call of his allies and celebrities.”

He said Duterte’s known “kindness and compassion” will carry the day. “If he could forgive businessman Lucio Tan for allegedly ‘funding destabilization plots’ after Tan’s Philippine Airlines provided free flights to OFWs from Kuwait, he might do the same for ABS-CBN in view of its helping victims of the Taal volcano eruption and its special coverage of the disaster.”

“The soft heart of Duterte will not allow him to ignore the interest of the thousands of employees and talents who would be affected by the closure of ABS-CBN,” he said.

The former opposition senatorial candidate said he knows that “deep inside his armor, the warrior is a child”, to borrow from that popular song of Gary Valenciano, “because when I last met him and addressed him ‘Mr. President,’ he replied: ‘Idol, kumusta ka na,’ and held my hand and we had a selfie.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 19, 2020)

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