Two Saturdays ago in our program “Dito sa Bayan ni Juan” aired over the various platforms of SMNI, including TV and social media, we discussed the planned reclamation projects in Manila Bay.
The discussion focused more on the possible negative effects of the reclamation, including flooding and vehicular traffic.
After the program, I received an e-mail from Dr. Edgardo Alabastro, a consultant of the Federation of Philippine Industries’ Environmental Committee. In his message, Dr. Alabastro shared his views on the Manila Bay projects, which he said would hopefully enlighten the public on the truth and consequences of reclamation. His opinion is based on his more than 10 years of participation and involvement in various reclamation projects.
In the interest of fairness and balanced journalism, let me share with you some of Dr. Alabastro’s key points:
Floodings, a common concern, are caused by clogged or blocked rivers, streams and esteros. Irresponsible discharges by households, especially the informal settlers, of domestic wastes including plastics are the culprits to flooding. In some cases the esteros are constricted because of occupancy as place of dwellings by some settlers. Soundly designed reclamation projects ascertain that the reclamation islands do not block these streams, rivers and esteros and in fact provide adequate channels to prevent flooding.
Storm surges or “daluyong,” another concern, are caused by climate change, which induce strong waves towards the coasts. Reclamations do not and cannot cause storm surges. In fact the reclaimed land provides a sheltering effect against storm surges by clocking the waves towards the coast and dissipating the waves’ energy.
Sea level rise is also caused by climate change and not in any way by reclamation. A common perception that when sea body is replaced by land, the water level rises is without scientific basis. Not only are the reclamation areas very small compared to the 199,000 hectares of the Manila Bay but more importantly, even the miniscule sea level rise dissipates towards the South China Sea. “Water seeks its own level.”
Liquefaction, earthquakes and ground movements are other fears by some stakeholders. The reclamation projects are well outside the alignment of the “Big One”, the West Valley Fault scenario. The Metropolitan Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study (MMEIRS) support this statement. Equally important are (a) Sound engineering design and construction on which Filipino engineers are recognized and are undertaken (b) Private sector investors would not pump huge money in the billions of pesos into projects than run the risks of being damaged and (c) Pope Francis, US President Obama and other heads of states stayed in a reclaimed land during their respective visits to Manila.
Land subsidence, or the sinking of land, is indeed experienced in certain parts of Metro Manila. However, this is due to over extraction of ground water on land and not at sea. In fact Former NWRB Director Ramon Alikpala restricted underground water extraction. As to the reclaimed land itself, prior to construction of vertical structures on the finished reclaimed land, this undergoes soil stabilization to ensure that no localized land subsidence would occur.
Traffic is a curse in Metro Manila, one of the worst traffic-congested cities in the world. During the construction phase of a reclamation project, i.e. the formation of reclaimed land, traffic is confined to the sea due to movement of sea vessels. Only very few trucks are involved during the construction stage, like bringing materials (e.g. sands and gravel) from shore to the reclamation site.
Reclamation, in fact, is a solution to traffic. Without reclamation, the needed land would have to be provided onshore. Assuming that there are indeed available contiguous lands for development, traffic would be a nightmare if development were to be carried out on an equivalent area situated on existing lands. At a reclaimed land, traffic could be easier managed; the road networks would be much better designed and constructed.
The southern port of Manila, Cebu Reclamation, was created through reclamation, Changi’s Singapore Airport, Copacabana Beemster Polder Lake Beemster (in Netherlands) are among the reclamation projects deemed successful.
Reclamation is not just the formation of land at sea but the subsequent developments, e.g. construction of buildings, structures and other developments after the land shall have been formed.
Public values including livelihood, employment, and other socio benefits shall accrue to the constituents of the LGU hosting the reclamation project.
It is a project done at no financial cost to the government, and all risks are on the shoulders of the private sector. And given the country’s current economic challenges of inflation, high prices of food and energy, reclamation projects are a boost to the country’s economy.
The view of the beautiful sunset that Manila Bay is known for will not be obstructed by the structures that will be constructed in the area.
I think Dr. Alabastro made several valid points that should be looked into for further consideration by our policymakers and the various stakeholders, including the public. Let’s delve also on the advantageous side of reclamation, and there are so many good things that may come out of it. Look at Singapore, they have been reclaiming and their ports now have deep waters that can accommodate big vessels.
I’m sure these reclamation projects will be hosting soundly master-planned communities. The expansion of the land as well as the buildings and other structures that will rise in the reclaimed areas may actually save the nearby residents from storm surges, strong winds, and huge waves. The sea will be farther while the structures can also serve as seawalls and cushion the impact of wind gusts.
Sometimes you have to make sacrifices in the interest of development and progress, in the same way farmlands and forested areas are giving way to road systems and communities.
Of course, we need to balance everything, as much as possible, taking into consideration the truth and consequences of any activity.
Dr. Jesus Lim Arranza is the chairman of the Federation of Philippine Industries and Fight Illicit Trade; a broad-based, multisectoral movement intended to protect consumers, safeguard government revenues and shield legitimate industries from the ill effects of smuggling.