We, at the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), are alarmed at the massive land reclamation projects being hatched by some government officials and business personalities. The total coastal area being programmed for land reclamation is reported to be 38,000 hectares, more than half of which cover a large swathe of the Manila Bay. This has dire environmental and socio-economic implications for the country.
The environmental arguments raised by the scientists against these reclamation projects such as land subsidence and liquefaction are being ignored by the proponents of massive sea reclamation. These reclamation projects put Metro Manila in a precarious situation. Reclamation deepens the vulnerability of the metropolis, which has been sinking, to risks such as sea surges, tsunamis, sea rise and city-wide flooding associated with the global warming phenomenon. The metropolis also faces a life-threatening catastrophe should a major earthquake hit Metro Manila because the “cemented” land mass built on fragile foundations and the “cemented” bridges connecting the old and new lands are simply no match to the shaking of the earth’s ground.
Furthermore, reclamation, especially a massive one as contemplated by the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA), subverts the biodiversity and the rich marine life within and along the Manila Bay area. The livelihoods of thousands of families dependent on fishing are directly affected. The historic Manila Bay sunrise, sunset and horizon shall also become history.
Also, where will the reclamation developers get the materials to fill up or empty the sea? The 38,000 hectares of reclaimed sea space means an equivalent 38,000 hectares of rock, sand, gravel and other materials dug up or extracted from the country’s already fragile hilly and mountainous areas. In short, reclamation, as massive as the one outlined by the PRA, threatens the forest lands and the watersheds of the country’s hinterlands. Hills and mountains shall be disemboweled. Like the urban poor and fisherfolks in the targeted coastal areas, the forest dwellers and the indigenous peoples in the targeted sources of materials shall be affected. The point is that the adverse environmental impact of reclamation spans the whole value chain of a country’s watershed, from the forest ridges above all the way down to the coastal reefs below.
Overall, the projected job gains in the reclamation projects can not compensate for the job losses in the fishery sector, the adverse environmental impact of the reclamation processes in the reclaimed areas and in the areas where the materials are sourced, and the geological and other environmental hazards that the land reclamation program is spawning.
Unbridled reclamation also deepens social and economic inequality in the country. It is not the local government units (LGUs) who finance and undertake the reclamation projects. These are the big corporations, which are able to hoard and commercialize the reclaimed land, converting them as casinos, condominiums, malls, entertainment complexes and other business projects catering to the well-heeled and middle-class Filipinos. The urban poor and fisherfolk families affected by the reclamation projects are simply “relocated”, usually in parts unknown or in areas still to be determined at later stages of any reclamation project. Their livelihoods and their housing and community needs are not on top of any reclamation development agenda. The whole process clearly smacks of grave social and economic injustice.
Meantime, host LGUs become indebted and dependent on the big corporate reclamation proponents. Corporate real estate development projects become the cornerstone of LGU development programming. A people-centered community-based in-situ economic development programming, as envisioned by the Constitution and the Local Autonomy Code, is either ignored or set aside. The responsibility of the LGUs to address the more urgent challenges of urban renewal and inner-city re-development, including coastal community development, is somehow forgotten, as the peso earnings from corporate-sponsored reclamation are projected as the LGUs’ major accomplishments. Cities are being built around the commodified reclaimed real estate lands, not on the welfare needs of the ordinary citizens, especially of the urban poor.
Are there job-rich development alternatives for the LGUs? There are, but city executives and planners have to adjust their development lenses. Manila Bay, for example, can be transformed into a major eco-educational-tourism project that can attract millions once the Bay is fully cleaned up, dredged and rehabilitated. The coastal fishing communities along the Bay can also be transformed into modern and sustainable communities if the communities are treated as partners in building up fishery-related industries, cooperative social enterprises and a whole slew of community re-development programs. The question that should be raised to the LGUs and their city planners: Para saan ba kayo: sa tao o sa ilan lang malalaking korporasyon?
In closing, we, at the Freedom from Debt Coalition, stand four square behind the proposal of Representative Rose Marie Arenas for a total ban on any further reclamation project in the whole Manila Bay area. We demand an immediate halt to all these reclamation projects. There should be a rigorous and transparent government-citizen consultation on other reclamation projects in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. We are for the full ecological rehabilitation and restoration of the natural beauty of Manila Bay, not its devastation through unbridled reclamation.