By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz
Progressive leaders and members of fisherfolk, urban poor, environment, and church groups called for a moratorium on reclamation projects that could threaten coastal and marine landscapes around the country.
They issued the call during a two-day conference titled “2nd People’s Summit on the Impacts of Reclamation” held on March 26-27 in Manila.
The advocacy groups said at least 11.24 million people may significantly be impacted by reclamation projects covering 39,414 hectares that threaten coastal and marine landscapes around the country.
Majority of the reclamations or at least 80 percent of these projects are concentrated in Manila Bay. Other reclamation projects are located in Cebu, Iloilo, Laguna, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan City, Davao City, Davao del Norte, Batangas, Bacolod City, Palawan, and Aklan.
These are hectares upon hectares of wetlands and marine habitats where rare migratory birds converge, where fish breed and feed, and where millions of people subsist for their sustenance and livelihood, the groups added.
These are the green corridors that are our first and last line of defense from growing risks of storm surges, floods, and other disasters, they also said.
International ocean conservation group Oceana also urged the government to uphold and enforce the law in several reclamation projects submitted to and being processed by the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA).
“We are alarmed by the apparent disregard of our progressive laws for protection of our vastly threatened natural life support systems, and allowing these reclamation projects to pave our mangroves, sea grass beds, and other marine habitats,” Oceana said.
“Dumping and filling of critical marine support systems in Manila Bay are not only violating our laws; these deprive our artisanal fisherfolk of their living and sustenance as well as fisheries and biodiversity which are heavily impacted,” it added.
Oceana questioned the PRA and other national government agencies, and local government units for processing the application of these projects despite possible violations of the Local Government Code, Fisheries Code, Environmental Impact Statement System Act, and Climate Change Act, among other laws.
“Local government units expand their land territory further into the sea, substantially changing its territorial boundaries. Under the Local Government Code and other laws, rigid requirements include a national law enacted for that purpose and a majority of votes for its approval is cast in a plebiscite,” Oceana Philippines vice president Gloria Estenzo Ramos said.
“The affected stakeholders’ state-guaranteed right of public participation should be honored. We dare ask the proponents of these projects to prove that they complied with these requirements and they can stand before the people that they did not violate our laws,” she added.
Under the Local Government Code or Republic Act 7160, a local government unit’s boundaries may only be substantially altered by law enacted by Congress, she pointed out.
Section 10 of the same Code provides that no substantial alteration of boundaries of local government units shall take effect unless approved by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite called for the purpose in the political unit or units directly affected.
These are in addition to the other requirements of the Code and pertinent environmental laws, such as consultation of local communities, she also cited.
According to Ramos, some local government units use these illegal dumping and filling projects to increase their internal revenue allotment (IRA) without going through the rigid process set by the Local Government Code.
“Thus, disbursements by the Department of Budget and Management of the IRA to a number of LGUs who have not complied with the legal requirements for reclamation projects are questionable,” she added.
The reclamation summit was organized by the People’s Network for the Integrity of Coastal Habitats and Ecosystems (People’s NICHE), a national alliance advocating for ecological restoration as an alternative to land reclamation.