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MANILA, Philippines – On World Fisheries Day on Tuesday, November 21, fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) called on Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. to withdraw the reclamation project of his family’s company Frabelle Fishing Corporation.
“We urge Agriculture Secretary Tiu Laurel Jr. to withdraw Frabelle’s reclamation project in Manila Bay because of its adverse impacts to fishing communities and fishing waters,” said Ronnel Arambulo, Pamalakaya’s vice chairperson.
“Since the project officially started in 2020, fishers [experienced] a significant loss of income.”
Bacoor in Cavite province is an area of major reclamation projects. There’s the Bacoor Reclamation and Development Project (BRDP) covering a total of 320 hectares of which Frabelle Fishing Corporation was the proponent, and the 100-hectare Diamond Reclamation and Development Project by Diamond Export Corporation.
These projects aim to add more open spaces to Bacoor City, which can be used to put up a commercial business district and other development ventures on the reclaimed land.
Tiu Laurel was president of Frabelle and chairman of Diamond Export Corporation before he was appointed as the new DA chief early November. Malacañang said Tiu Laurel has since divested his interests from private companies in light of his appointment.
But divestment doesn’t mean Tiu Laurel can no longer influence his family’s decisions, said Pamalakaya.
“He might have personally divested from Frabelle Fishing Corporation but that doesn’t mean that he completely lost influence over his family-owned business,” Arambulo said.
Frabelle Fishing Corporation is a family-run company founded by the DA chief’s parents back in 1966. It has since expanded its operations and is now one of the major seafood companies in the Philippines.
Dredging for the BRDP started after environmental compliance certificates were secured from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in 2020. The local government of Bacoor is eyeing an additional P1.8 billion in annual revenue from the developments in the reclaimed land.
Rappler has asked for Tiu Laurel’s office for comment but has yet to receive a response as of writing.
Damage to communities, environment
Coastal communities in Bacoor bore the brunt of the reclamation projects, Pamalakaya said.
“The said reclamation has already displaced more than 700 fishing families over the last two years, and continues to threaten more than 1,000 coastal families.”
The fisherfolk sector remains one of the poorest in the Philippines. Aside from the impact of development projects on their livelihood, fishers also have to contend with big fishing companies, such as the one formerly led by Tiu Laurel.
Some of the reclamation projects in Manila Bay have been criticized for their supposed negative impact on the environment.
Senator Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Senate committee on environment and natural resources, has brought up reclamation projects in Bacoor in recent hearings. Villar is opposed to these projects and has asked the DENR to recall the permits issued to these projects.
“The reclamation project will potentially cause irreparable damage to the Las Piñas-Parañaque Wetland Park,” Villar said in a statement back in 2020. “The project will be building on the buffer zone of this protected area and will destroy the landscape in which the wetland now thrives.”
The environmental impact assessment of these projects, however, says that the project site is not within the Las Piñas-Parañaque Wetland Park and will not infringe on mangroves.
In 2021, the local government of Bacoor demolished illegal fisheries structures in the area in a bid to rehabilitate the bay.
The DENR supported this, with the environment department’s Calabarzon executive director saying in Filipino, “This activity in this part of Cavite is part of the mandate given by the High Court to clean Manila Bay and bring back water quality to SB level. This is part of the bigger program to rehabilitate Manila Bay.” Class SB means the public can bathe and swim in the water.
The move was opposed by various groups at the time, saying the demolition was only a “precursor” to massive reclamation projects in the area.
According to the project description report of the BRDP, the site is not within the Las Piñas-Parañaque Wetland Park and does not infringe on mangrove areas.
While those behind reclamation projects say that environmental permits were first secured before they were undertaken, the DENR said this year that a study that would assess the overall impact of all projects along Manila Bay has yet to be done.
As such, the DENR said it is currently undertaking a cumulative impact assessment on the bay, with the help of experts and social scientists.
Last August, President Ferdinand Marcos ordered the suspension of Manila Bay reclamation projects. But Malacañang has yet to produce a document regarding the suspension. Concerned environmental groups have criticized the administration for its “lip service” over the issue. – Rappler.com