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P14-B land project may lead to more Metro floods

NOT ONLY is it a stopover for migratory birds, but the Las Piñas-Parañaque Coastal Lagoon planned for reclamation also provides livelihood to families in the area and gives protection from flooding.

The 175-hectare lagoon that serves as home to endangered Philippine ducks and a stopover for Chinese egrets was declared a sanctuary four years ago by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

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Environmentalists and local officials in the area are now urging the Aquino administration to respect the Arroyo initiative to preserve one of Metro Manila’s last nature reserves and bird sanctuaries.

“I hope [the government] would honor the [executive order] which declared the area a sanctuary,” said former Las Piñas Rep. Cynthia Villar, whose charity foundation has been spearheading the rehabilitation of the Las Piñas and Zapote rivers.

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“While I am not yet sure if [the reclamation plan] is official, the lagoon is a protected area. There are people who depend on it to earn their keep,” said Parañaque agriculture officer Fe Ferolino.

The Parañaque government has kept a close watch on its portion of the lagoon with constant monitoring for illegal activities and periodic planting of mangrove seedlings, according to Ferolino.

“Our objective is to preserve the area, and the [Department of Environment and Natural Resources] helps us by providing mangrove seedlings to be planted there,” she said over the phone.

The national government, through the Philippine Reclamation Authority, plans to reclaim 635 hectares in front of the sanctuary, officially the “Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area.”

Environmentalists oppose the P14-billion project, saying the lagoon would be cut off from Manila Bay and lack of saltwater would destroy mangroves and lead to the breakdown of the ecosystem there.

Fear of flooding

Since a large part of the area falls under Parañaque’s jurisdiction, the local government patrols the sanctuary, with deputized environment monitors on the lookout for people who might disturb the natural reserve, Ferolino said.

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The waters off the mangrove forests are much clearer now, she noted, comparing it to its state over a decade ago. She credited the improvement to the lush plantation which likewise serves as a breeding ground for various types of fish.

The Parañaque council has passed a resolution regulating fishing in the area, allowing only city-accredited fisherfolk to operate.

For residents of Las Piñas, the lagoon serves as an outlet for its two major waterways ensuring that any heavy downpour in the city makes its way to the sea quickly than spill to its streets, Villar explained to the Inquirer.

“If the reclamation would be done wrongly, we fear it could affect the natural flow of the rivers and water might spill to the city streets during rains,” she said.

She pointed to perennial flooding in the cities of Malabon and Navotas, where reclamation had been carried out.

The Philippine Reclamation Authority has insisted that the development project, which the government agency will carry out with local authorities and a private investor, would maintain the integrity of the habitat.

Expansion seaward

Officials of the authority claim the expansion is seaward and no mangroves would be cut.

Environmentalists warn that the reclamation, if pushed through, would deprive water birds of other viable alternatives, pointing out that more than 95 percent of natural wetlands had been converted into fishponds.

Ornithologists had counted up to 28,000 birds in Manila Bay in a single day in the 1970s, before the fishpond industry exploded and land reclamation began. The number of birds in the bay is down to no more than 5,000 today.

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TAGS: Bird sanctuaries, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, environment, Flooding, Livelihood, Manila Bay, Metro Manila, Migratory birds, Nature reserves
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