Reclamation in Dumaguete seen to pose devastating impacts on environment, communities

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Reclamation in Dumaguete seen to pose devastating impacts on environment, communities
Satellite image shows Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental.
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MANILA, Philippines — Scientists and environmental advocates expressed opposition to a massive reclamation project in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental, fearing it will bring devastating impacts on the communities and the coastal ecosystems in the area.

In a statement, national scientist and former environment chief Angel Alcala along with the present and former presidents of Silliman University (SU) said the planned P23-billion reclamation along the city’s coastline “will directly destroy, literally bury, the few remaining coral reef, seagrass and soft-sediment ecosystems that support small-scale fisheries and gleaning in Dumaguete.”

The local government and the developer aim to build a 174-hectare “smart city” on a reclaimed land. According to a Philippine News Agency report, the project will be at no cost to the city government.

Matthew Vincent Tabilog, a member of Mangrove Matters PH, told Philstar.com the signing of the joint venture agreement was moved “until further notice.”

He added the province's Sangguniang Panlalawigan signed a resolution urging the Dumaguete City council to defer and reevaluate the authority and consent given to Mayor Felipe Remollo to enter into an agreement with the developer, E.M. Cuerpo Inc. 

Effects on coastal ecosystems

A map created by the Students Toward Environmental Welfare and Research for Development and Sustainability (STEWaRDS), a group of students in SU, showed 62.5% of seagrass beds and 60.5% of coral reefs in the area will be buried should the reclamation project push through.

Both seagrass beds and coral reefs provide important ecosystems for marine life. Seagrass meadows are also highly efficient carbon sinks, sequestering carbon from the atmosphere up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests.

“Dumaguete City lies in the center of Negros Oriental and the city has rich coastal ecosystems that mitigate the effects of climate change and bring ecological and socioeconomic services to the people," Tabilog said.

Photo shows an overlay of the marine habitats along Dumaguete with that of the proposed reclamation.

A study in 2020 showed that there were over 200 species of fish in one of the areas that will be affected by the reclamation project, and local fishers rely on about 60% of these species for livelihood and subsistence.

The massive reclamation project is also seen to negatively impact four marine protected areas in the city covering 104 hectares.

“Some of these MPAs may even cease to exist. If the project pushes through, Dumaguete City will renege on its commitment to do its part in marine conservation for the province, region and country,” the statement of experts read.

Aside from Alcala, signatories of the statement include SU president Betty McCann, former SU president, Ben Malayang III, and professors Hilconida Calumpong, Rene Abesamis, Enrique Oracion, Janet Estacion and Robert Guinoo.

Coastal communities

In a separate statement, youth organizations said the project can potentially alter the flow of wastewater, which will result in the pollution of multiple municipal waters, and increase flooding impacts on coastal communities.

“Local fishermen have also noticed a decline in catch since the beginning of this project, forcing them to go farther and farther out into the ocean in order to bring back enough fish to support themselves and their families. In furthering this project, more and more of their livelihood would be destroyed,” the groups said.

The youth groups composed of Kabataan Para Sa Karapatan-Negros Oriental, Mangrove Matters PH, Association of Young Environmentalists-Dumaguete Chapter, (STEWaRDS) and Lihok NegOr led an online petition. Currently, over 10,000 people have signed the petition. 

On Monday, convenors of the #NoTo174Dumaguete sent a letter of objection to the office of the city mayor. 

Questions on transparency

The scientists and academics called on the city council to rescind its action in endorsing the project and approving the contract. Dumaguete City Mayor Felipe Remollo should also disclose the history and track record of the developer.

“The mayor and the members of the council [should] publicly disclose their individual and collective reasons why this haste of pushing this huge project knowing that elections are to be held next year and they might not be in office by them,” they said.

Groups opposing the project also questioned the lack of consultation with communities.

In 2019, DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu signed the approval of the “area clearance” permit for the project which was valid for five years.

“Our city is at the forefront of scientific research and social development. We have excellent leaders who have rallied for effective and secure development that has made the city what it is today. We beg the same leaders to align their future development plans with the city’s economic and environmental long-term plans and avoid disastrous and unsustainable reclamation projects like this one,” STEWaRDS said in a statement

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