Environmental group chimes in on mega vax center debate: 'Why not convert malls, golf courses instead of Nayong Pilipino?'

Published May 11, 2021, 1:13 PM

by Ellson Quismorio

Environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) has sided with the Nayong Pilipino Foundation (NPF) on the issue of whether or not a mega vaccination facility should be build on the latter’s property.

A healthcare worker preparing to administer a COVID-19 vaccine. (Mark Balmores/ File photo/ MANILA BULLETIN)

In a statement Tuesday, May 11, Kalikasan PNE sought the protection of the NPF’s 8.5-hectare urban forest park from being converted into what it called “a questionable mega-infrastructure project masquerading as a COVID solution.” “The Nayong Pilipino urban forest park is a critical safe space that will benefit the 1.2 million residents of Pasay and Paranaque suffering from the pandemic lockdown. Experts concluded last year that we need green open spaces now more than ever to provide the public with socially distanced breathing and recreation space, pollution and disease control, and long-term climate resilience,” Kalikasan PNE national coordinator Leon Dulce said.

The construction of the mega vaccination facility is being supported by Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., vaccine czar and chief implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19; and Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat of the Department of Tourism (DOT).

Actual construction hasn’t begun yet since the Board of Trustees of the NPF–a subordinate body of the DOT–hasn’t signed the memorandum of agreement (MOA) for it, citing environmental, health, and legal concerns. This, despite the project’s approval last month.

Part of the controversy surrounding the effort to build the high-capacity vaccination center is the involvement of private entity International Container Terminal Service (ICTSI) in the supposed public undertaking. The ICTSI is owned by billionaire businessman Enrique Razon Jr.

“We find it questionable that a mega vaccination center is being forced on top of an important green space, when public health experts have been pushing for decentralizing vaccination hubs to bring them closer to the people instead,” Dulce said.

Dulce went on to suggest an easier route for authorities to build the facility.

“We believe it is not difficult and may even be more cost-effective to retrofit existing built environments like malls, golf courses, sports complexes, and the like for vaccination facilities,” he said.

Kalikasan PNE further said that more than 450 trees would have to be cut to give way to the “mega vax center”. The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines noted that at least 177 birds belonging to 25 different species were documented in just two ours of monitoring bird populations in the urban forest.

“It’s not just the birds and the bees. The increasing loss of green spaces across Metro Manila is making people more vulnerable to floods and other extreme climate impacts. At least eight million Filipinos were forced to contend with agricultural and property destruction while facing the prospect of COVID-19 super-spreader events because of Typhoons Rolly through Ulysses last year,” Dulce explained.

“The climate crisis did not cease to exist when the COVID-19 pandemic came about. Government should not be forcing the public to choose which disaster they are willing to face. The government is mandated to ensure the public’s safety from all these risks,” he said.