‘We are in that neighborhood we are concerned about’ | Inquirer News

‘We are in that neighborhood we are concerned about’

/ 05:44 AM August 11, 2023

United States Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson visits PDI office.PHOTO BY EUGENE ARANETA

United States Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson visits PDI office. PHOTO BY EUGENE ARANETA

US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson on Thursday said the United States Embassy had raised concerns over a large-scale reclamation project in Manila Bay because of its environmental impact and the damage it could bring to the cultural and heritage appeal of the historic Roxas Boulevard which lines its shores.

Flooding and other environmental problems resulting from the project could lead to “potentially losing whole neighborhoods,” she said in an interview with the Inquirer. “We are in that neighborhood we are concerned about.”


On Tuesday last week, US Embassy spokesperson Kanishka Gangopadhyay called attention to the reclamation project involving a Chinese company which had taken part in building artificial islands that now serve as China’s military outposts in the South China Sea and blacklisted by Washington three years ago.


The state-owned China Communications Construction Co. (CCCC) had also been cited by the World Bank and the Asian Development for alleged “fraudulent business practices,” he said.

Carlson said that “no matter who’s doing it, [the environmental impact] is our primary concern.” The Chinese company’s involvement was simply “adding insult to injury,” she said.

“It’s inconceivable that CCCC would be right off the coast of the Philippine capital when they are apparently employed in undertaking these activities and have long been associated with illegal activities that the world is deeply concerned about,” the diplomat pointed out.

Complete permits

But the Waterfront Manila Premier Development Inc. (WMPD), the project proponent, clarified in an ad in the Inquirer on Monday that it had obtained all necessary permits such as the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and secured operation permits from the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) since 2022.

WMPD, a company owned by the family of Sen. Win Gatchalian, clarified that its engineering, procurement and construction contractor—China First Highway Engineering Corp.—had not been flagged by the World Bank and was a separate entity from its parent company, CCCC.

Carlson said the US Embassy made the statement on CCCC last week to make sure that “no US company would do business with people operating illegally.”


WMPD said, however, that its project was “studied and master-planned” by AECOM, a US-based infrastructure consulting firm.

It added that the US Embassy was invited to attend meetings on the proposed project in December 2017 and on two separate days in May 2018 but it did not send any representative to raise its concerns.

The embassy complex itself stands on reclaimed land and was built shortly before World War II. The embassy, homes and buildings along Roxas Boulevard have a grand view of Manila Bay and its famous sunset, one of Manila’s tourist attractions.

DENR clarification

The WMPD project, where residential and commercial buildings would rise in a casino complex that would be built on  318 hectares of reclaimed land, could block the magnificent age-old sight of the orange sun disappearing into the ocean.

Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga on Thursday clarified that all 22, not just 21, Manila Bay reclamation projects were suspended by President Marcos, including the proposed WMPD enclave.

“So, all are under review. We have to take our time, really, beginning with those that are ongoing because they’re in fact already impacting the areas and then we will graduate to those in fact still not yet begun,” she added.

She said the DENR could not comment on the contractors chosen by the developers. “We are here to actually implement environmental laws,” she said.

Loyzaga indicated that she would not be deterred by any threats.

“You can ask people who know me. I am not easily scared,” Loyzaga told reporters after Sen. Cynthia Villar said that the DENR chief was afraid of influential individuals pushing for the Manila Bay reclamation projects.

She said the DENR review would include how the reclamation projects had been compliant with the conditions in their ECCs but did not say how long it would take.

The Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment praised the President’s suspension order, saying it was “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.”

Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto said Mr. Marcos had “serious digging to do” to get to the bottom of reclamation projects and should give himself ample time to “sift through the mountain of reclamation applications approved and proposed.”

According to data from the PRA, the approved, proposed and ongoing reclamation projects as of December 2022, covered 25,120 hectares, equivalent to “433 times the size of Luneta,” Recto said in a statement.

According to PRA data cited by Recto, the projects included those “deemed approved” which total 2,422 hectares, those that had been issued with PRA permits covering 3,517 hectares, and 13,347 hectares “in the pipeline.”

“It is safe to assume that this is not in Manila Bay alone—the dumped sand you see there is just the tip of the iceberg—but all over the country,” Rector pointed out.

Former President Rodrigo Duterte issued Executive Order No. 74 in 2019 transferring control over the PRA from the DENR to the Office of the President.

The 199,400-hectare Manila Bay has a coastline running through Manila and the cities of Parañaque, Pasay, Malabon and Navotas, and the provinces of Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga and Bataan, according to Oceana, a nongovernmental group that advocates protection of the seas.

Over the decades, land had been reclaimed from Manila Bay, including the area occupied by the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex, which is about 67 hectares.

The Mall of Asia, the largest mall in the country with a floor area of 386,000 square meters, sits on a 42-hectare reclaimed land.

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Aseana City is a 107-hectare business district in a reclaimed area that hosts several establishments, including the Ayala Malls Manila Bay, City of Dreams and the Passport Center of the Department of Foreign Affairs.



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TAGS: United States

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