ENVIRONMENT Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga said an order stopping all land reclamation activities in Manila Bay will be issue shortly in compliance with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s suspension order.
At a press conference in Malacañang on Thursday, the chief of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources also clarified that all 22 land reclamation projects are suspended pending a cumulative review to determine the soundness of the projects.
“We have been obligated to do [the review] by the Supreme Court. We need to do the review of these projects,” said Loyzaga.
She said 22 land reclamation projects were approved during the Duterte administration before she took the helm of the DENR, which regulates the issuance of ECC for environmentally critical projects like land reclamation in environmentally-critical areas such as Manila Bay, an economically important water body and major fishing ground in Luzon.
Manila Bay straddles cities and municipalities from the provinces of Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, and Bataan, and covers the entire National Capital Region (NCR).
The suspension order, which took effect upon Marcos’s verbal order and public pronouncement during a site inspection in Bulacan, will be communicated to the project proponents, the DENR chief added.
“The DENR does not have the authority to suspend [the reclamation projects],” Loyzaga explained.
All 22 reclamation projects at Manila Bay will remain suspended pending the result of the DENR review on their compliance with environmental regulations, Yulo-Loyzaga said. The agency has started sending suspension orders to contractors of the said projects.
Loyzaga said they expect to complete within August the members of the scientific team, which will conduct the cumulative assessment on the economic, social and environmental impact of the projects.
She said projects found to have a negative impact on the environment or violated government regulations, will be given time to implement corrective measures.
“There is due process here now…If they do not comply. It’s possible for the ECCs [environmental compliance certificate] to be suspended,” Loyzaga said.
Afraid of influential people?
In a Senate hearing earlier this week, Senator Cynthia Villar claimed Loyzaga was “afraid” of the influential people behind the ongoing reclamation projects.
Loyzaga, however, said she is “not easily scared” by such influential people and she is ready to implement the mandate of DENR, especially on the reclamation projects.
“I’m very grateful to Senator Villar for her concern. But we are here to do our job. And we will do it slowly but deliberately because we want to make sure that we stay within the bounds of the law,” the DENR chief said.
Yulo-Loyzaga maintained that the ongoing review will be anchored on the continuing Supreme Court mandamus ordering 13 government agencies led by the DENR to rehabilitate Manila Bay and restore the water to its pristine state – or at least make it suitable for fishing and bathing.
Asked by reporters whether she is bothered by the fact that proponents of the projects are influential, Loyzaga said she is unfazed.
“Yeah, for those of . . [you who know me] well, I don’t know many of you, but you can ask those who know me. I am not afraid,” she said.
According to Loyzaga, while under review, there should be no activities in Manila Bay, showing a copy of the order to Malacanang reporters.
“I have a copy of the suspension, and I guess the PRA has this, too,” she said.
She said the review process will take months, or longer. A scientific team will be created by the end of the month and she is also considering the possible involvement of other experts from other disciplines such as in the field of social science.
“Community impact assessment involves drivers, it involves impacts, and many other disciplines. I have heard some observations, noting that I have not mentioned social scientists. For those people who know me, I’ve been an advocate of transdisciplinary work,” she said.
She added that in transdisciplinary work, it also means learning from communities and from experts in practice and scientists.
Environmental groups welcomed the decision to suspend all the land reclamation projects in Manila Bay and want the DENR to revoke all the environmental compliance certificates (ECCs) during the previous administration.
Pamalakya and People’s Niche were among the first to call for transparency and want civil society organizations and people’s organizations to be involved in the proposed cumulative assessment.
International environmental group, Oceana, in welcoming Pres. Marcos’ decision, however, called to go further by permanently stopping what it describes as ecologically devastating projects not only in Manila Bay but also the entire country.
“We welcome President Marcos Jr.’s wisdom-filled decision in stepping in and suspending the reclamation projects in Manila Bay. However, we urge the President to permanently stop these projects as they put in peril food security, violate our constitutional rights to a healthy, balanced, safe and resilient environment and the rights of artisanal fisherfolks and coastal communities to access their fishing grounds and livelihoods,” Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Oceana’s Vice President said.
Oceana Philippines, which opposed land reclamation, reported that as of February 28, 2023, the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) lists a total of 52 land reclamation projects in various parts of the country. These are in various stages of development. Of this number, 22 projects are located in Manila Bay, and half of these, or 11 are already underway. Outside of Manila Bay, the PRA lists a total of 30 projects – 14 were approved plus Coron; and 15 applications under Executive Order 74 with memoranda of understanding.
Documents obtained by the Business Mirror further revealed that 18 of the projects have ECCs, but most are not yet being implemented.
Image credits: Nonie Reyes