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.