Marcos suspends all Manila Bay reclamation projects under review

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Marcos suspends all Manila Bay reclamation projects under review
President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. visits Bangued, Abra to distribute relief assistance and assess the aftermath #EgayPH on July 29, 2023.
Photos by KJ Rosales / The Philippine STAR

MANILA, Philippines — The government has suspended all 22 reclamation projects in Manila Bay pending a review of their compliance with environmental regulations, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said yesterday.

Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga said President Marcos has issued the suspension so agencies could look into the environmental and social impact of the projects. She added that the DENR would look into the projects’ compliance with the conditions under which the environmental compliance certificates and area clearances were issued.

“The declaration is really that all of these projects are suspended at this point. So, all are under review,” Loyzaga said at a press briefing in Malacañang.

“We have to take our time, really beginning with those that are ongoing, because they are in fact, already impacting the areas. And then, we will graduate to those that are in fact, still not yet begun,” she added.

Loyzaga said the suspension is already in effect. “As soon as the President speaks, I think that will be in effect. And so he actually declared this over last couple days, I think, when he was in the Bulacan area for the flood incident, and we now have a formal (order),” she said.?

During a typhoon situation briefing in Bulacan last Monday, Marcos revealed that all Manila Bay reclamation projects have been suspended except one. He said the government saw a lot of problems in the implementation of the projects.

According to Marcos, the sea along Roxas Boulevard could disappear because of the projects. The projects were approved during the time of former president Rodrigo Duterte.

Loyzaga said a scientific team would be formed to conduct a community impact assessment. The team will be composed of a physical scientist, oceanographers, geologist, climate scientist and social scientist.

Asked about DENR’s target, Loyzaga said, the DENR would know once the scientific team converges and the work program is laid out.

The environment chief also denied that she is afraid of influential persons behind the reclamation projects, as claimed by Sen. Cynthia Villar.

“For those who – well, I don’t know many of you, but you can ask the people who do know me – I am not easily scared,” Loyzaga said. “I’m very a grateful to Senator Villar for her concern, but we are here to do our job and we will do it slowly but deliberately because we want to make sure that we stay within the bounds of the law.”

The suspension came days after the US embassy had expressed concern that the Manila Bay reclamation projects have ties to the China Communications Construction Co. (CCCC), which was blacklisted by Washington in 2020.

The Chinese firm has been included in the US Department of Commerce’s Entity List for its role in helping the Chinese military construct and militarize the artificial islands in the South China Sea.

According to the US embassy, the CCCC had also been cited by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank for engaging in “fraudulent” business practices.

Asked to comment on the embassy statement, Loyzaga replied: “Our role in the DENR is to really focus on environmental compliance. As you know the proponents of the projects are the local government units and they do have their own partners.

“We are not actually able to comment on the choice of contractors or the activities that may have gone on in order for them to engage these contractors. We are here to actually implement environmental laws,” she added.

Environmental group Oceana urged Marcos to permanently stop all reclamation projects in the country after he ordered their suspension pending review by the DENR.

“While we welcome the suspension, our call is to permanently stop the reclamation projects. The impact of these projects was already felt after the flooding in Bulacan. The damage is irreversible,” Oceana legal and policy director Rose Osorio said, adding that they have monitored at least 30 reclamation projects in Manila Bay. –  Ramon Efren Lazaro, Evelyn Macairan, Bella Cariaso, Sheila Crisostomo

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