By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – When Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu announced last week the government’s plan to “rehabilitate” Manila Bay, environmentalists and fisherfolk who are expected to welcome the decision expressed alarm instead.
In a picket at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) last January 18, the protesting fisherfolk said that the so-called rehabilitation is an attack on fisherfolk and coastal poor. They also highlighted the irony that the plan actually works against genuine rehabilitation of Manila Bay.
The Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) said that the DENR’s pronouncements on the Manila Bay rehabilitation do not take into account the complexity of the ecological problems across the various watersheds that converge toward Manila Bay. There are even news of various business deals being approved by the government or being contemplated as approved covering the bay in Bataan, Manila and Cavite.
‘It’s not rehabilitation without moratorium on reclamation’ – environmentalists
Concerned environmentalists and fisherfolk stressed that there is no real rehabilitation if government pursues its massive reclamation program. According to them, the Duterte administration is continuing the massive reclamation program begun by the previous administration, with only minor revisions in the scope of coverage.
At least 28,647 hectares out of the more than 30,000 hectares of roughly 40 reclamation projects remain as approved or pending along Manila Bay under Duterte. These include the coast in the provinces of Bataan, Bulacan and Cavite. The reclamation projects threaten to continue the trend of killing and burying under landfill and various real estate projects the last remaining 734 hectares (out of what used to be 2,000-plus hectares) of mangrove forests and seagrass beds which serve as pollution filters and protect the coasts from huge waves.
On a related note, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada has signed at least three agreements with various corporations’ reclamation and real estate projects covering hundreds of hectares of the Manila Bay. This will extend the previously reclaimed land on which the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Complex and SM Mall of Asia are built. These cover the Tieng family’s Manila Goldcoast Development Corp. (MGDC’s 148-hectare reclamation in the southern parcel of the Manila-Cavite coastal road), the Sy family’s SM Prime Holdings Inc. (360-hectares) and the Pasay Harbor City consortium (265-hectares) which includes Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy. The latter two are reclamation projects in Pasay City.
At the Bulacan stretch of Manila Bay, there is the 2,500-hectare Aerotropolis project that the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and the Department of Transportation (DoTr) approved last year. Even though it has yet to get an environmental impact assessment and clearance, it is widely seen as the reason for the cutting of old-growth mangroves in Taliptip, Bulacan, Bulacan last year. Local residents late last year established a network opposed to reclamation and the Aerotropolis project. They are currently expanding members, engaging the local government and pushing for a petition to oppose the aerotropolis and reclamation.
In Cavite, fisherfolk communities affiliated with Pamalakaya (National Federation of Fisherfolk Organizations in the Philippines) are wary of the upcoming “scoping” by the local government. They keep hearing threats of demolition without relocation as the local government pursues various reclamation projects for road construction and other projects. Other villages, they said, have been forced to leave when their coastal communities were reclaimed and turned into parts of Cavitex.
“Ever since reclamation and conversion have become the government and corporate craze, massive mangrove forests have been uprooted and productive coral reefs were destroyed. Fish catch has dramatically gone down to two to five kilos every fishing trip,” Pamalakaya National Chairperson Fernando Hicap said.
‘Rehabilitate Manila Bay by addressing the culprits of pollution, and they are not the poor’ – fisherfolk
Concerned environmentalists and fisherfolk also said that there is no real rehabilitation if the main causes of Manila Bay pollution are not addressed.
In his public pronouncements, Cimatu implied that the informal settlers are the main causes of pollution in Manila Bay, hence the need for their removal. However, government data itself show that this is not true.
Kalikasan PNE estimates that the roughly 300,000 low-income waterway and coastal families contribute just five percent to Metro Manila’s total solid waste output. Meanwhile, the contribution of the total middle-income population and the commercial establishments are nearly 10 times and 7.4 times bigger, respectively.
The government itself is reportedly one of the biggest culprits in the failure to minimize the damage of these wastes. Studies show that 74 percent of monitored solid wastes in the oceans were already previously handled by waste collection services. The National Solid Waste Management Commission notes that only about 32 percent of barangays across the country are serviced by a Materials Recovery Facility, and only about 24 percent of local government units have access to sanitary Landfills as of September 2018.
Kalikasan PNE said that even the Metropolitan Waterworks Sewerage System (MWSS) contributed to the problem because it has connected only 14 percent of its serviced population to its sewerage pipes and system, not to mention 44 percent of its serviced population to its sanitation services from 2011 to 2018. The environmental group said that the DENR’s silence on the culpability of corporations in the pollution of the Manila Bay is “willful blindness.”
In relation to this, concerned environmentalists and fisherfolk stressed that there is no real rehabilitation if the Manila Bay ends up with profit-driven corporations. While the Manila Bay is already deteriorating, Hicap said that driving fisherfolk out of Manila Bay to give way for further privatization of the bay will do more harm than good to its ecosystem.
Hicap said that if the government pushes for the more than 40 reclamation contracts, it will have created eight 4,000-hectare Manila landfills in the waters of Manila Bay. That means it would have destroyed that size of reefs plus the remaining mangroves, and the subsequent activities over the landfill would further contribute to more pollution.
Kalikasan PNE said that the government must impose a moratorium on reclamation of Manila Bay and push for genuine rehabilitation instead. Pamalakaya also stressed the need for a holistic and scientific process such as reviving the destroyed mangrove forests, seagrasses and coral reefs that act as fish sanctuaries and pollution filters.