No Build Zone Policy: Hypocritical Solution, Says Environmental Group

by Marya Salamat

MANILA – It is not for the safety of many but for the profit of a few; it is eviction and dislocation instead of aid and rehabilitation. This is how the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda, grouped in People Surge, has been describing the No Build Policy currently being implemented in coastal areas of Eastern Visayas by the Aquino government.

This week, environmentalists allied with the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment joined the People Surge in demanding the scrapping of this controversial policy. President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), ordered its implementation as reports poured in about massive damages and casualties suffered by coastal communities.

But “The No Build Policy arbitrarily bans dwellings within prohibited zones without social acceptability, feasible relocation, and livelihood alternatives presented to the displaced families,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE. In a picket in front of the office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources this Monday (April 7), Bautista likened the No Build Zone policy to “another storm surge,” only this one is man-made and it can be prevented easily by way of revoking the policy.

Not a new or a respected policy

The No Build Zone policy is not actually new. As stipulated in the Water Code of 1976, it is prohibited to construct permanent structures within 40 meters from the shoreline. This policy has evidently been violated numerous times. But with Aquino’s current No Build Zone over Eastern Visayas, it doesn’t look like it is suddenly taking the prohibition to heart.

The No Build Zone is “a total failure” in protecting coastal and marine ecosystems and ensuring the safety of coastal communities, Bautista said in an earlier statement.

“In spite of this policy, most of our public domain like mangrove areas and shorelines were converted to private ownership and were used for commercial purposes. This included the proliferation of fishpond production, private resorts, shopping malls, economic zones, and luxury subdivisions,” said Bautista.

The country’s current mangrove area is just 20 percent of our original mangrove forest cover, a measly 117,000 hectares, said Kalikasan PNE. Statistics also show that the country’s coral reef areas are now in a critical state, and fish production is fast declining because of overfishing, marine pollution and degradation of coastal areas.

This, unfortunately, will not be corrected at all in the implementation of No Build Zone policy in Eastern Visayas. On the contrary, the policy is being used to continue its “crystal clear total failure” at protecting coastal and marine ecosystems.

Kalikasan PNE echoed the complaint of typhoon survivors that the Aquino government’s No Build Zone policy over Eastern Visayas is focused more on demolishing the communities affected by super-typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan), to give the way to big businesses.

At the same time the Aquino government is demolishing communities and barring the survivors from rebuilding in their former locations, it is reportedly exempting the operation of big business projects over the same areas. ”Private corporations are in a mad race to convert thousands of hectares in Eastern Visayas and other Yolanda-affected areas into special economic zones, extractive industries and ecotourism projects, Bautista of Kalikasan PNE said.

In addition to the national government’s plan to convert the vacated areas into ecotourism projects, the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) expressed plans to develop the affected areas into IT parks and special economic zones for manufacturing. The biggest local private corporations like Ayala Land, SM Development, Aboitiz Corp, and Pangilinan’s PLDT-Smart are being prioritized and tasked in ‘rebuilding’ the infrastructures in the devastated areas.

It is in fact “this profit-driven mode of coastal development that has led to the rapid degradation of our coastal and marine ecosystems in the first place,” the environmentalists pointed out.

Hypocritical non-solution

Aquino’s No Build Zone Policy is decried as neither help nor rehabilitation for the disaster victims. It is also not at all about concern for their safety.

“Reducing disaster risks in coastal areas cannot be achieved by removing communities away from their livelihood, and promoting the entry of coastal development aggression projects,” said Bautista. On the contrary, he added, this policy would make them “more vulnerable to poverty and hunger, with or without the incidence of natural calamities”

If, on the other hand, the government would indeed go for minimizing risks of disasters and ensuring the people’s safety from natural calamities, then mangrove rehabilitation areas and the construction of disaster-proof evacuation centers should be the bigger priority, Bautista said. He cited experiences showing how communities with healthy mangrove forest and those immediately evacuated in safe infrastructures mitigated better the impact of storm surges and flash floods.

Also, there is the Republic Act 10121 or the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, Kalikasan PNE reminded the Aquino government during their picket at the DENR. This law mandates the national government with a framework to pursue a comprehensive community-based approach in disaster risk reduction and management. Why then, they asked, is the Aquino government pursuing the exclusionary approach of the No Build Zone, when it contradicts this mandate?”

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PHOTO CAPTION AND CREDIT

Green groups depict No Build Policy as man-made storm surge against the common people, in Apr 7, 2014 picket at DENR. (Photo by M. Salamat)

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