land reclamation in the Philippines

DENR: All Manila Bay reclamation projects suspended, under review

Iya Gozum

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DENR: All Manila Bay reclamation projects suspended, under review

SUSPENDED. Reclamation project in Manila Bay on August 9, 2023.

Rappler

Environment Secretary Toni Yulo-Loyzaga says the President's earlier announcement was what triggered the actual suspension of all 22 reclamation projects

MANILA, Philippines – Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Toni Yulo-Loyzaga clarified that all 22 Manila Bay reclamation projects are currently suspended and under review.

This comes after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said earlier this week that the reclamation projects are suspended except for one, which he did not specify.

“Upon clarification with the President, and as you will see in the suspension [order], all are under review,” Loyzaga said during a Malacañang press briefing on Thursday, August 10.

She was referring to a document from Malacañang, although it was not clear what the issuance was. Rappler has asked for a copy of the document but has yet to hear back from the DENR.

Does being under review mean the projects have been suspended? “Yes,” Loyzaga answered categorically.

According to Loyzaga, Marcos’ announcement was what triggered the actual suspension of all 22 Manila Bay reclamation projects.

“The DENR does not have the authority to suspend,” said Loyzaga. What the environment department is undertaking now is an assessment that looks into the overall impact of the projects on the ecosystem of the region.

How long will the suspension be in effect?

The review will take some time as Loyzaga wants to take a scientific and deliberate process in assessing the reclamation projects.

However, the DENR said it will prioritize the review of ongoing projects as “they’re in fact already impacting the areas.” Eventually, the review will extend to projects that have yet to begin.

Loyzaga said they are expecting to form the scientific team that will conduct the cumulative impact assessment within the month.

The team will involve oceanographers, geologists, and climate, social, and physical scientists. Studying climate change impacts and geological risks will be part of the review, and the department will set targets once the scientific team comes together.

A cumulative assessment is important because any disruption – in this case, the introduction of structures in a region located at zero elevation – may threaten the safety of people, especially during extreme weather events.

“When you have the situation where you have extreme weather events…what’s important is the ecosystem service of drainage for flood management…needs to be preserved and enhanced,” Loyzaga said.

More teeth

Meanwhile, anti-mining group Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) is demanding an executive order from the Office of the President “to ensure that the projects are indeed suspended.”

“The President should back up his pronouncement with an order to give teeth to his statement,” said Jaybee Garganera, national coordinator of ATM, in a statement on Wednesday, August 9.

“At the minimum, DENR Secretary Yulo-Loyzaga or the Philippine Reclamation Authority should issue an administrative order for the immediate suspension of these projects.”

The group also demanded the participation of civil society and nongovernmental organizations “so there is a more holistic and representative assessment of the projects.”

International environmental group Oceana welcomed the “wisdom-filled decision” of Marcos, but they also demanded a permanent suspension of reclamation projects to prevent further environmental damage.

Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines, said on Wednesday that because of reclamation projects in Manila Bay, mangroves were destroyed, fisherfolk were denied livelihood, and marine habitats were degraded.

The 22 suspended projects in Manila Bay only constitute a small number of the roughly 180 proposed and ongoing reclamation projects nationwide. Many environmental groups have been opposing these projects due to their adverse impacts on communities and marine resources. – Rappler.com

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Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum covers the environment, agriculture, and science beats for Rappler.