Only 3 Manila Bay projects ‘ongoing’ prior to halt order – DENR
MANILA, Philippines — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. just last week ordered the suspension of reclamation activities in Manila Bay pending reviewing processes that went into the projects’ approval and their environmental impact.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Tuesday said the president’s order covered all 22 reclamation projects in Manila Bay — spanning areas under the jurisdiction of Metro Manila and several parts of Cavite province.
The agency also clarified that only three projects in Metro Manila were under an “ongoing work” status or were being implemented before the suspension order, as the rest were either set for the signing of memorandums of agreement or were still in the application stage. It said not all have environmental permits and other regulatory requirements.
The DENR issued this clarification on Tuesday after Joseph Literal, Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) assistant general manager, said in an interview with CNN Philippines on Monday that the government had approved only 13 reclamation projects in Manila Bay and 22 projects nationwide.
“Not all [the projects] are in the National Capital Region, some are in Region 4-A (Calabarzon or Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon),” the agency said in a Viber message to reporters, adding that only 15 reclamation projects are in Metro Manila while the rest are in Calabarzon.
The DENR did not provide details on the three Metro Manila projects being implemented when the suspension was announced, as the department was still verifying the information with other government agencies.
Data provided by the PRA and published on the government’s e-FOI (Electronic Freedom of Information) website in February and May, showed that 52 reclamation projects had been approved around the country, including the 22 projects in the Manila Bay area.
According to the list uploaded in May, two projects have “ongoing reclamation works”—the Pasay Harbor City Project covering 265 hectares and the Pasay 390 hectares reclamation project covering 390 ha.
The proponent of the two projects is the Pasay City government, while its private partners are Pasay Harbour City Corp. and SM Prime Holdings Inc.
According to Literal, the PRA has the authority to green-light the reclamation projects as stated under Executive Order No. 74, signed by former President Rodrigo Duterte.
“We process (and collect) the permits from other government agencies and we evaluate them together with other mandatory requirements [that] we require for the reclamation project,” he said, adding that the most important documents are the environmental compliance certificate and the area clearance issued by the DENR.
“The Manila Bay projects are all [public-private partnership] projects of the local government units [LGU] so it’s the [concerned] LGU who [applies] for a reclamation permit for a … project with the PRA,” Literal said.
The project proponents and their private partners are given 24 to 30 months to comply with all the requirements of PRA, including the conduct of public hearings and a feasibility study for proposed activities.
Records from the PRA showed that the local governments involved in the Manila Bay reclamation projects are the cities of Pasay, Manila, Navotas, Las Piñas and Parañaque in Metro Manila, and the cities of Bacoor and Cavite in Calabarzon.
Literal also pointed out that the approved reclamation projects covered only a small part of the 200-ha Manila Bay area.
“If you would compare it to the entire size of Manila Bay, which is almost 200,000 hectares … it’s less than 5 percent. We just want to dispel the notion that Manila Bay will disappear,” Literal said.
The 22 reclamation projects, including those still in the application stage, would cover 6,780 ha of the bay area.
Mr. Marcos had ordered the suspension of these projects, citing problems in implementation and environmental concerns, including severe flooding, raised by different groups.
“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.
The President issued his verbal order days after a United States Embassy official expressed concern about a reclamation project in Manila Bay involving a Chinese construction company blacklisted by Washington three years ago.
The embassy complex on Roxas Boulevard faces the bay near some reclamation project sites.
In an interview with the Inquirer last week, US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson said the embassy had raised concerns about the reclamation project’s environmental impact and the damage it could bring to the cultural and heritage appeal of the historic Roxas Boulevard.
Flooding and other environmental problems resulting from the project could lead to “potentially losing whole neighborhoods,” Carlson said. “We are in that neighborhood we are concerned about.”
Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga, for her part, earlier said a team of local and foreign experts was being convened this month to conduct a “cumulative impact assessment” of the Manila Bay reclamation projects.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church’s social advocacy arm, Caritas Philippines, urged President Marcos to suspend all reclamation projects across the country, saying, “these projects are not in the best interests of the Filipino people.”
“Reclamation projects displace fisherfolks and coastal urban communities, destroy coastal ecosystems and contribute to food insecurity,” Caritas Philippines president and Kidapawan Bishop Jose Bagaforo said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Reclamation is not the solution to the problems of Metro Manila. We need to invest in sustainable development that will benefit all Filipinos, not just a few wealthy individuals,” Bagaforo stressed.
Created in 1966 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines as the “humanitarian, development and advocacy arm of the Catholic Church,” Caritas Philippines is mandated to “accompany the poor and marginalized in the just and legitimate struggle for social justice and transformation.”