Church Leaders, Groups Oppose Manila Bay Reclamation Projects

by Dennis Espada

PARAÑAQUE CITY – “The destruction of natural resources means the destruction of our fellow human beings. Lives will be devastated if we do not utilize it correctly.”

This was the message of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle during the mass for the opening of the “Season of Creation 2014″ at Baclaran Church last September 1, which was attended and participated by thousands of church goers.

This year’s monthly-long event focused on the social and environmental impacts of wide–scale reclamation projects in lakes, rivers, shore lines and watersheds. To highlight this, various people’s organizations discussed their experiences and advocacies, performed cultural presentations, and set up photo exhibits within the vicinity.

Ronnel Arambulo, a member of Save Laguna Lake Movement (SLLM) and coordinator of Pamalakaya-Binangonan chapter (National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organization in the Philippines), tackled the plight of fisherfolk in coastal areas surrounding the 90,000- hectare Laguna Lake. He said urban poor families residing in Metro Manila, Rizal and Laguna are threatened by demolitions of shanties that would result to their displacement.

Dumping land into the water to create new ground, he said, has caused the narrowing of the original extent of the lake for fishing purposes. “Reclamation is one of the problems why many fisherfolk like us continue to live in poverty. Unlike before, now we could not catch a sustainable amount of fish.”

Aside from holding fluvial parades and forums to raise public awareness on the lake’s importance, SLLM is also lobbying in government agencies and collecting signatures to a petition against the proposed Laguna Lake Expressway Dike, a P122 billion ($2.772 billion) project that would reclaim hundreds of meters of the lake’s shoreline.

Arambulo appealed to citizens and the government to initiate concrete measures to protect the homes and livelihood of fisherfolk who depend on the lake for survival, instead of pushing for “development” projects that will only benefit corporate interests.

Meanwhile, a concerned citizens’ group called Alliance for Stewardship and Authentic Progress (ASAP) said in a statement that Manila Bay Reclamation Projects will gravely affect not only cities within Metro Manila but also portions of Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga and Bataan, including the 635-hectare Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat Ecotourism Area, regarded as the “last coastal frontier.” ASAP is one of the groups that formed the People’s Network for the Integrity of Coastal Habitats and Ecosystems (People’s NICHE).

Under the public-private partnership program, the national government plans to reclaim these areas and allow big private investors to build high-end residential subdivisions, business and commercial zones, golf courses, as well as a casino and resort complex.

Church leaders had already presented their opposition to the Manila Bay Reclamation Projects in a letter addressed to President Benigno Aquino III dated November 19, 2013. This was signed by 21 bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Manila representing dioceses in affected cities and provinces: Manila, Parañaque, Cubao, Novaliches, Pasig, Kalookan, Malolos in Bulacan, Imus in Cavite, Antipolo in Rizal, San Pablo in Laguna and Puerto Princesa in Palawan. Collectively, they said: “We believe that the project will have far-reaching consequences for the people and for the ecosystem in these areas.”

“Wouldn’t it be wiser to boost tourism, cultural architectures, and to restore old historical sites and buildings, rather than build on reclaimed land to the detriment of the livelihood of people and the environment? The money for reclamation can better be spent for increasing and improving basic services to the people and for the protection of our ecosystems that can enhance ecotourism, employment opportunities and above all restore ecological balance,” the letter stated. (bulatlat.com)

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PHOTO CAPTION AND CREDIT:

Protest waged against reclamation projects (Photo by Marya Salamat / Bulatlat.com)

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