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UP prof warns against impact of Manila Bay reclamation

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A law reform specialist at the Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea (IMLOS) of the University of the Philippines (UP) has expressed concern over the environmental impact of reclamation projects in Manila Bay.

Speaking at the 11th Media Seminar on Maritime Issues sponsored by the United States Embassy in Manila, lawyer Jacqueline Joyce Espenilla said reclamation is an “environmentally problematic activity” eating up ocean spaces just to give way to urban sprawl in the metropolis.

“The problem with that is despite the momentum for rehabilitation, there’s is no interaction with the people who approve these ongoing projects. Of course, that will be very problematic. There are now studies coming out that it (reclamation) will affect the various protected areas. It will reach into other development sites. What was it all for them if we are going to do that? That’s the problem,” Espenilla told participating journalists in the seminar.

Espenilla, who received her masters of law degree from Harvard Law School and a Visiting Research Scholar of the International and Comparative Law Program at Columbia Law School, pointed out that in the same year that the clean up of the Manila Bay has sort of kick-started, “we have all of these reports that the same area that we seek to protect is now going to be subjected to reclamation projects.”

“It seems at cross-purposes because if you want to protect something, you want to make it at a level that is not subjected to further development. And here you’re doing precisely exactly the opposite,” she said.

So far, there are about 22 proposals to reclaim various parts of the Manila Bay, two of which are underway.

“Instead of developing inland we are basically going outward because of unfathomable reason,” said Espenilla who also lectures at the country’s premier university.

Problem

“Reclamation is such a very environmentally problematic activity. In that, you would be throwing in additional sand and all these building materials in order to extend the landmass and projected out towards the sea. You’re eating up ocean space in order to accommodate the urban sprawl of this Metro Manila,” she said.

Although 13 government agencies led by the DENR are having discussions to rehabilitate the Manila Bay, Espenilla said there is one agency, the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA), that is currently making decisions, awarding developers and local government units, in consortium or in partnership, to reclaim certain parts of the Manila Bay.

On February 1, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order 74 placing the PRA under the control and supervision of the Office of the President. The PRA used to be under the wing of the NEDA.

“Was there consultation with all those other stakeholders? No. The DENR supposedly has to issue an Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) before these can be awarded by the PRA.  And supposedly they did that, but the problem is, at the level of the PRA which supposed to have the birds-eye view of the entire project, even they don’t have an overall impact study of what these individual recognition sites will do to manila bay and the rehabilitation efforts,” Espenilla said during her presentation.

She further explained that even before a reclamation proposal would even be seriously considered, there should have a sort of a “master plan and vision” that would involve impact study.

In the case of the Manila Bay reclamation projects, Espenilla stated that approval happens on a “per project basis” with “no set guidelines.”

“These happen on a per-project basis. There are no set guidelines for how all of these moving parts would interact with each other… assuming all of them are approved throughout the Manila Bay, we don’t know what the overall impact could that would be,” she said.

Approval

On September 26, the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) approved the joint venture between the Pasay Harbor City Corporation and the Pasay City government for a 265-hectare land reclamation project.

The Pasay Harbor City Corporation is a partnership composed of President Duterte’s two major supporters  – Davao businessman Dennis Uy’s Udenna Development Corp. (UDEVCO) and Charli Gozales’  Ulticon Buildings Inc. The third member of the partnership is the Chinese
government-owned China Harbour Engineering Company.

According to reports, the project is an unsolicited proposal from the Pasay Harbor City Corporation, which intends to build a 265-hectare reclamation project in Manila Bay under the Pasay City Government as the implementing agency.

The PRA earlier said there have been four Manila Bay reclamation projects accomplished so far: Central Business Park I-A (200 hectares); Central Business Park I-B&C (210 hectares); Central Business Park II (43 hectares); and Asia World (173 hectares).

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