'Slow down': Senate urged to assess carefully impacts of planned Bulacan airport

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
'Slow down': Senate urged to assess carefully impacts of planned Bulacan airport
A woman sits on the stairs of her house at Sitio Kinse, Barangay Taliptip, Bulakan, Bulacan.
Philstar.com / Efigenio Christopher Toledo IV

MANILA, Philippines — Civil society groups called on senators to deliberate carefully the impacts of a sprawling airport complex in Bulacan not only to the environment but also to communities before they decide whether to grant or deny a 50-year franchise to the project.

This comes after members of the Senate committee on public services led by Sen. Grace Poe expressed their support for the bill granting San Miguel Corp. a franchise to construct a P740-billion San Miguel Aerocity in Bulakan, Bulacan.

The House of Representatives approved a counterpart bill on September 7.

The 2,500-hectare complex will include the New Manila International Airport, which will have four runways. It is seen by its proponents and government officials as a solution to ease congestion at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, the country’s main gateway.

Environmental lawyer Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, Oceana Philippines vice president, urged lawmakers to be objective and make decisions based on science.

“The Senate must slow down and really take time to assess and call in the necessary government officials and experts in considering food security, resiliency, public safety and viability,” Estenzo-Ramos said in a briefing organized by Oceana.

Lawyer Liza Osorio, managing trustee of the Philippine Earth Justice Center, stressed the need for the public to know the impacts of the airport project.

“‘Yung Senado sana di bilisan ‘yung proseso kasi dapat careful assessment ‘yung titignan, transparent dapat ‘yung process para malaman natin kung ano ba ‘yung impact ng proyekto nito sa ating resources,” she said.

(The Senate should not fasttrack the approval of the bill because there needs to be a careful assessment, the process must be transparent for us to know the impacts of this project to our resources.)

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At risk from flooding, geohazards

The site of the San Miguel Aerocity—fishing and mangrove areas—is susceptible to flooding, storm surges, earthquakes and sea level rise. Experts also said that land subsidence will be aggravated once the airport complex is constructed.

In the Senate hearing Wednesday, SMC said it has tapped the firms behind Changi Airport in Singapore and Charles de Gaulle Airport in France. The company also said it plans to dredge and increase the carrying capacity of rivers in and around the site of the airport city project.

Manila Bay is also a spawning ground of sardines as identified by the National Fisheries Research Development Institute and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

Marine scientist Raymund Fantonalgo told Philstar.com in an interview last year that the area where the aerotropolis will be built is a productive nursery and feeding ground because of the rich mangrove ecosystem in the area.

“This project will not only impact on fisheries and the remaining wetlands of Manila Bay. The viability of its location is also questionable because of the hazards such as the sinking of the project area and bird strike,” read the position paper of groups, which include Oceana, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, Advocates of Science and Technology for the People and Greenpeace.

“With all these issues and their consequences, the government may not earn during the 50-year franchise. Once the airport is transferred to the government after 50 years, it may have to spend a prohibitive amount just to keep seawater from reclaiming the airport,” it read.

If enacted, the bill will grant a 50-year franchise, inclusive of 10-year maximum period for the constructionn of the airport complex. It will also exempt the grantee from any direct and indirect taxes and fee during the construction period.

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Land classification

The groups, in their position paper, also urged the upper chamber to investigate the land classifications of Barangays Bambang and Taliptip—the site of the airport complex. They pointed out that the two villages are tidal flats and historically, a mangrove forest.

“Public lands are for conservation, not for developments such as the airport project,” the groups said.

They also called on how public lands in Taliptip and Bambang are now in the possession of individuals and private entities.

“To reiterate, it is prudent that the legislative bill be put on hold pending resolution of issues on constitutionality of holding a franchise on forest land or public land and the project posing a major challenge in the nation’s goal to build resiliency in our natural life support system and our people, promote food security as well as conserve our vanishing mangroves forest,” they said.

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