SC asked to stop construction of new Bulacan airport

Published December 15, 2020, 5:02 PM

by Rey Panaligan & Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz

The Supreme Court (SC) was asked on Tuesday, December 15, to stop San Miguel Corporation (SMC) from constructing the New Manila International Airport, known as the Aerocity Airport Project, on a 2,500-hectare foreshore area in Bulakan town, Bulacan province.   

In a petition for a Writ of Kalikasan, the fisherfolk of Bulakan town told the SC that the site of the new airport has been classified by the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority as forestland and permanent forestland.        

The petitioners claimed the project would violate many environmental laws, adversely affect the migratory bird population, and increase risks to climate change impacts that would devastate the marine habitat.        

They also claimed that the Airport Project Area and the Airport City Area cover forest and permanent forest land that are not alienable and disposable, thus, violating Republic Act 4701 or An Act  Declaring a Portion of the Foreshore Fronting Manila Bay Along the Province of Bulacan as Bulacan Fishing Reservation and Authorizing the Appropriation of Funds Therefor.         

At the same time, they alleged that portions of the areas covering the project are classified as public forest and fishery reserves and, thus, inalienable.         

Also, they alleged that the airport project violates RA 7160 or the Local Government Code which mandates public consultation and local government ordinance on projects that impact on the environment and aggravate climate change.         

A Writ of Kalikasan is a legal remedy for the protection of one’s right to “a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature,” under Section 16, Article II of the Constitution.         

The petitioners were represented by Teodoro Bacon and Rodel Alvarez, together with Oceana through its Vice President Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, and Archbishop Roger Martinez of the Archdiocese of San Jose del Monte.  

They were joined by the Aniban ng mga Mangagawa sa Agrikultura led by its chairperson Renato de la Cruz.         

Oceana is an international advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans.         

Named respondents were Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu, Environmental Management Bureau Region III Regional Director Wilson Trajeco, Department of Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, San Miguel Aerocity President/CEO Ramon S. Ang, and Silvertides President/CEO Hercules V. Galicia.        

 SMC’s Aerocity, with its subsidiary-contractor Silvertides Holdings, also envisioned the construction and development of a 12,000-hectare township that features a residential zone, government center, seaport, and an industrial zone.  

 The petitioners claimed that the projects also violate the provisions of RA  8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998; RA 9275 or the Clean Water Act; RA 9729 or the Climate Change Act; RA 10654 or An Act to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, Amending RA No. 8550 or The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998; Presidential Decree 705, also known as the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines; Presidential Decree 1586 or the Philippine Environmental Impact Statement Law; and several other administrative issuances, memoranda and circular pertaining to environmental protection.

In filing the Writ of Kalikasan, the petitioners aim to stop the reclamation of Manila Bay and save the sardines, shrimps and crabs, endangered migratory birds and mangroves, marine habitats, and ecosystem in Manila Bay.

They also seek the full compliance of the respondents with fisheries and other environmental laws that will ensure the protection of the natural life support systems and the fisherfolk who depend on these for livelihood.

Environment conservation group Oceana pointed out that Manila Bay serves as the main source of livelihood for residents in the coastal cities and municipalities of the National Capital Region. It also contributes a sizable portion to the total fish production of the country. 

The group also noted that mangroves in Bulacan—which have since been reduced to only 27 percent of the original acreage due to rampant cutting—are critical to defend the coastal communities from storm surge, land subsidence, and other impact of climate change.

“Environmental damage of such magnitude is prejudicial to the life, health or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces, not to mention its impacts on declining fish catch to fisherfolk communities in Manila Bay and even that of passengers and airline owners from possible bird strike,” Ramos said.

Archbishop Martinez, who is also the convener of the Alyansa ng Mamamayan para sa Pagtatanggol ng Kabuhayan, Paninirahan, at Kalikasan sa Manila Bay or Akap Ka Manila Bay, pointed out the absence of the mandatory environmental compliance certificate (ECC) even before the project started. 

The respondents pointed out that it was Silvertides that was issued an ECC on June 14, 2019 and not the airport project. 

The SMC subsidiary had been saying that their project was different from SMC’s aerotropolis, Oceana said.

For this purpose, the Writ of Kalikasan is also pushing for the issuance of a court order declaring the DENR’s Freedom of Information Manual, which exempts environmental impact statement from public disclosure—as ultra vires and invalid—the agency having continuously refused to provide a copy of the document.

Using the conservative global average for sea level rise (SLR) in Manila Bay of 29 centimeters by 2050, and the steady rates of land subsidence due to uncontrolled ground water extraction, the airport tarmac could be back at sea level and at risk of daily flooding by the year 2052, Oceana said, citing recent studies.

“This calculation suggests this project is not viable in this location, and not worth the massive ecological and socioeconomic impact that it would entail. It is no wonder that the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master Plan released in June 2020 draws a coastal line of defense that goes way inland than the project covered area,” Ramos said.

Citing a 2018 data by the Philippine Statistics Authority, Oceana said that municipal, commercial, and aquaculture workers of Metro Manila alone yielded an estimated 103,882.87 metric tons of fishery products from Manila Bay. 

Likewise, it noted a National Fisheries Research and Development Institute report, saying Manila Bay is also a rich sardine spawning ground.

“Manila Bay is an active and living bay. It plays host to several species of fishes, seashells, and corals, and even endangered migratory birds. These are affected by this airport and real estate development,” Ramos pointed out.

Just last year, a newly discovered sardine species, Sardinella pacifica, was identified from the bay.

Likewise, the DENR had discovered coral reefs thriving near the mouth of the bay despite the condition of the water.