Manila Bay fishers urge CA not to confirm DENR chief

GROUPS opposed to large-scale land reclamation in Manila Bay and other parts of the country today asked the powerful Commission on Appointment (CA) not to confirm incumbent Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon Paje.

Leaders of Manila Bay based organizations led by fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), Koalisyon Kontra Kumbersyon ng Manila Bay (KKK-Manila Bay), Anakpawis party list-Manila Bay chapter, Sagip Manila Bay Movement (SMBM) and Save Freedom Island Movement (SFIM) accused Secretary Paje of wholesale snub of people’s appeal to look into complaints against reclamation projects in Manila Bay and other areas covered by the National Reclamation Plan of the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA).

“Secretary Paje is not listening to the collective sentiment of Manila Bay fishers and urban poor. He is not saying anything about our plea to his office to cease and desist from issuing environmental compliance certificate to big time reclamation developers. This DENR secretary is really a white elephant par excellence.

We ask the members of the CA to turn down the appointment of this guy for the second or third time around,” said Pamalakaya national chairperson and Anakpawis party list no.1 nominee Fernando Hicap.

The Pamalakaya leader said anti-land reclamation groups may consider filing appropriate criminal and administrative charges against Secretary Paje if the latter continues to play dumb on the fisherfolk legitimate demand to stop reclamation projects all over Manila Bay and other target areas for land reclamation.

“Secretary Paje has no moral, legal and political right to treat us this way. This beloved secretary of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III is giving us the politically, constitutionally and morally correct opportunity to charge him before the court and we will strongly and seriously consider that,” Hicap added.

Last week, Pamalakaya wrote an omnibus demand to Secretary Paje urging the DENR secretary to issue cease and desist order against issuance of ECCs to large-scale reclamation developers in Manila Bay and other areas across the country/

In their letter dated October 16, 2012, the group said “the national leadership and mass membership of Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), a national federation of small fisherfolk organizations in 43 provinces all over the country hereby submit this Omnibus Demand to the Secretary of DENR to cease and desist from issuing environmental compliance certificates to large-scale land reclamation projects in Manila Bay and other areas covered by the National Reclamation Plan (NRP) of the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA)”.

The Omnibus Demand also said: “We are highly disturbed by the admission of the your department that DENR will not be a major obstacle to the reclamation projects to be undertaken by the PRA under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) program of the Aquino administration. There are 102 reclamation projects which the PRA will complete in the next few years, and these projects are nothing but pro-big business, anti-poor and anti-environment.

The support of DENR to land reclamation projects in Manila Bay and other areas can be seen in exchange of letters with the PRA.”

Pamalakaya and allied groups stated that one of the documents is a letter dated Dec. 5, 2011, by the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) to Environment Secretary Ramon Paje requesting clearance from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for at least 102 reclamation projects from Metro Manila to different areas in Visayas and Mindanao.

In the letter, PRA General Manager Peter Anthony Abaya told Secretary Paje that the reclamation projects had been presented to the Cabinet economic cluster committee sometime in June or July 2011.

“It would be worthy to note that the committee had recognized the huge potential investments that reclamation projects … could generate similar to the Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan experience, among other countries that are implementing reclamation projects, not only by the hundreds but thousands of hectares, as tools in achieving economic growth and development,” Abaya said in his letter to Paje.

On Dec. 12, 2011, Environment Undersecretary Analiza Rebuelta-Teh ordered all regional DENR executive directors to take immediate action on the PRA request.

“ The DENR ‘s open arms acceptance of the PRA reclamation projects expose reclamation target areas to extreme danger, threathen wholesale destruction of fisherfolk livelihood and environment,” said Pamalakaya.

The P 14-B Las Pinas-Paranaque reclamation project involving 203.43 hectares of Paranaque coastal territory and 431.71 hectares of Las Pinas territory is a major threat to the livelihood of small fisherfolk sourcing their subsistence from Manila Bay.

Pamalakaya asserted that the Las Pinas –Paranaque Coastal Bay project will directly and indirectly affect the economic and social being of 552,660 population in 16 barangays of Paranaque City and 532, 330 residents of Las Pinas City, excluding tens of thousands of fisherfolk and coastal villagers in nearby Bacoor town and neighbor cities of Manila, Navotas, Malabon and coastal towns in Bulacan, Pampanga and Bataan provinces who will also be affected by the large-scale reclamation project in various levels.

The Las Pinas-Paranaque Coastal Bay project is just one of those large-scale reclamation projects. The reclamation projects in Manila Bay alone will engage an across-the-bay reclamation project that would cover 26, 234 hectares of coastal waters.

“If the DENR insists in granting ECCs, it would be accused of pushing an open invitation to economic displacement and environmental catastrophe. This across-the-Manila Bay reclamation escapade warrants DENR to refrain from enjoining PRA in pursuing these projects,” the group added.

The reclamation project, which the DENR sealed with ECC, resulted to drastic decline in fish catch from an average of 5 kilos to 10 kilos per fishing trip prior to the reclamation and road project to 2 kilos to 3 kilos of average fish catch due to the negative impact of reclamation and road infrastructure project along Bacoor Bay.

Due to reclamation, several hundreds of hectares of mussel farms were demolished causing grave economic difficulties to small and medium scale mussel operators in Bacoor. Those who were allowed to operate mussel growing in Bacoor Bay likewise suffered further decline and income loss due, while shell gathering once a productive activity in Bacoor Bay is now a thing of the past due to the ecological imbalance created by massive reclamation.

Also in Manila Bay, the PRA also plans to develop the former US Naval Base Sangley Point in Cavite City with the reclamation of not less than 5,000 hectares of foreshore area to give way to construction of seaport and international airport in Southern Tagalog region.

In Navotas City, the same idea of modern day expansion is envisioned by the city government with the reclamation of 5,000 hectares of foreshore area. This will enable the city to modernize its fish port, expand its seaport and make Navotas City comparable to Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau and even Kuala Lumpur.

In other parts of the country, the NRP will eyes land reclamation in Moro Gulf particularly in Southern Mindanao Region (238 hectares) and 50 more reclamation projects across the country that will allocate at least 5,800 hectares of public land for privatization, conversion and reclamation.

Most notable of these land reclamation plans outside Manila Bay and Moro Gulf areas are the Cagayan Special Economic Zone reclamation project (220 hectares), Albay Gulf reclamation project (100 hectares), the Leganes Reclamation in Iloilo (1,200 hectares), the Bacolod City reclamation (250 hectares), the Semirara Island Reclamation (980 hectares) in Panay Island , Kalibo reclamation (200 hectares), Isabel reclamation (113 hectares) in Leyte, Talisay Reclamation (250 hectares) in Cebu, the Cordova Reclamation Project also in Cebu, the 400-hectare Panglao Reclamation Project in Bohol province and the San Jose de Buenavista Reclamation (300 hectares) in Antique.

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