Manila Bay reclamation works suspended amid US concern, floods | Inquirer News
All projects except one

Manila Bay reclamation works suspended amid US concern, floods

Manila Bay reclamation works suspended amid US concern, floods

BUSINESS AS USUAL | Reclamation work in Manila Bay goes on unhampered on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, despite President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s statement that 21 of the 22 projects are suspended. (Photo by MARIANNE BERMUDEZ / Philippine Daily Inquiry)

MANILA, Philippines — All Manila Bay reclamation projects, except one, are on hold pending a government review, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Monday in a move hailed by environmentalists and lawmakers as a victory preserving the area from ecological destruction.

“They’re all suspended; all reclamation [projects] are under review. Only one proceeded because it has already been reviewed. There are many problems. We saw many [of the projects] which are not being conducted properly,” the President told Bulacan officials as they briefed him about flooding in the province and the government response.


“But anyway, that is another big problem that needs to be fixed. Because if they all push through, many rivers will be clogged, including the ones emptying into [Manila Bay]. The water will have nowhere to go. Even on Roxas Boulevard, the sea will disappear,” he said.


Marcos made public his decision days after the United States Embassy expressed concern about a Manila Bay reclamation project being undertaken by a Chinese construction company that was blacklisted by Washington three years ago.

On Aug. 1, US Embassy spokesperson Kanishka Gangopadhyay said the state-owned China Communications Construction Co. (CCCC) “has also been cited by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for engaging in fraudulent business practices.”

Artificial island builder

CCCC was one of 24 Chinese companies blacklisted by the United States since 2020 for having played various roles in the creation of artificial islands that transformed a number of features of the South China Sea into Beijing’s military outposts.

The embassy complex on Roxas Boulevard faces the bay and is near some of the reclamation project sites.

It was not clear, however, if CCCC’s Manila Bay project was among those halted, as the president did not say on Monday which developer had been allowed to proceed.

The Presidential Communications Office did not immediately reply to media inquiries regarding the matter.


Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga earlier said a team of local and foreign experts was being convened to conduct a “cumulative impact assessment” of the Manila Bay reclamation projects.

She said the agency was looking to assemble the team this month, noting that many of the experts were already involved in evaluating the Manila Bay projects.

Environmental groups on Wednesday hailed Marcos’ decision as a victory against destructive reclamation projects around Manila Bay, one of the few scenic spots in the nation’s capital famous for its sunset view.

“[It] is the tangible result of years of community action and civil society clamor against the destruction of the Manila Bay ecosystem and the displacement of coastal communities,” the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment said.

But the group called for vigilance against project proponents who may appeal the decision and “find ways to circumvent the moratorium.”

Must be in writing

Alyansa Tigil Mina also welcomed the announcement but wanted it in writing — or in the form of an order from the Office of the President, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA).

International environmental group Oceana challenged the Marcos administration to permanently stop the projects not only in Manila Bay but in other parts of the country.

Citing data from the PRA, Oceana said there were 52 reclamation projects in the country as of the end of February, including a project in Coron that was forfeited last year.

Of that number, 22 reclamation projects are located in Manila Bay with half or 11 already underway, it said.

The activist fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) called on the DENR to comply with the President’s declaration suspending the projects by revoking the environment permits issued by the agency.

“For President Marcos’ statement to be concrete, the DENR must immediately review the 21 environmental compliance certificates of reclamation projects in Manila Bay,” Ronnel Arambulo, Pamalakaya vice chair, said in a statement.

Sen. Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate environment and natural resources committee, said Marcos’ decision was “good news to us who are afraid of the ill effects” of the reclamation projects.

“The reclamation [in Manila Bay] will cause massive flooding in our cities,” Villar said.

Sen. JV Ejercito, who earlier called for a moratorium on the reclamation activities to avert Metro Manila flooding, told reporters: “That is a very welcome development. I support the President’s decision 100 percent.”

But he said he still saw several dredging machines dumping sand near the shore when he passed by Manila Bay on Wednesday.

Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros also praised the president’s order but reiterated that the Philippines should not allow Beijing’s state-owned companies, such as CCCC, to engage in the reclamation projects.

She said CCCC was the same company that illegally built the Chinese military structures in the West Philippine Sea.

“I welcome the president’s suspension, but [the] government should not approve reclamation projects by China state-owned companies anymore. Certainly not now,” Hontiveros said, noting China’s recent harassment of Philippine ships in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

“CCCC, like its home country China, has committed many violations against the Philippines,” she said.

Sen. Francis Escudero said necessary charges should be filed against government officials and other individuals behind the reclamation activities that would be found to have violated the existing environmental laws.

But any review of the project contracts should be “evidence-based and not arbitrary,” he said.

“[I]f any will be canceled or rectified, appropriate charges [must] be filed against erring officials and individuals in order to exact accountability,” Escudero said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda thanked the president for suspending the projects, saying there was “never an ecological option” for land expansion.

“After all, it is part of our intergenerational responsibility to ensure that our decisions are ecologically sound and does not contribute further to the climate crisis or biodiversity loss,” she said.

Bulacan airport

On Monday, before he spoke of his decision to halt the projects, Mr. Marcos was informed by Bulacan Rep. Ambrosio Cruz Jr. that his constituents were blaming the construction of the New Manila International Airport (NMIA) on the coastal areas of Bulakan town for worsening floods in the area.

“It’s being pointed at by the people who say that when the [NMIA] was not yet being constructed there’s already flooding, but now that it has started, the flooding worsened,” he said.

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The NMIA, a project of San Miguel Aerocity Inc., is scheduled to be finished by 2027.


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TAGS: China Communications Construction Co., Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Manila Bay reclamation projects, Metro Manila flooding

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