Reclaiming Manila’s sunset

CITY SENSE - Paulo Alcazaren (The Philippine Star) - February 9, 2013 - 12:00am

Romance is in the air. The best air is the sea breeze and the most romantic time and spot in the metro is sunset by the bay. This coming Tuesday, a few thousand romantics are converging along Baywalk to express their love for Manila and its historic bay. They intend to form a human chain, symbolically protecting this site, and its vantage point by the sea, from being taken away forever.

The chain of events leading to this communal expression started close to twenty years ago as concerned residents got wind of plans to reclaim the bay between the CCP complex and the American Embassy. Around 1992, a company called Manila Gold Coast tried to get approval for reclamation plans from the Manila government.

A coalition of citizens who lived or had businesses and property in the districts of Ermita and Malate banded together to oppose this plan. Ordinary citizens from across the metropolis joined them. They all knew that it would compromise the environmental balance of the bay, add to traffic woes of the area, and erase the historic sunset from famed Roxas Boulevard.

Roxas, or Dewey Boulevard, was an essential element in Daniel Burnham’s 1905 master plan for Manila. The coastal boulevard was to connect Manila with Sangley Point. More importantly, it was to be a “parkway,” a landscaped linear park for promenading and recreation; taking as its main attraction, Manila’s ‘Naples-like” (Burnham’s description) bay. Burnham would later use this as his model for Lake Shore Drive in Chicago.

The sunset view from the grand sweeping boulevard defined Manila for most of the 20th ]century. The fiery sunsets of Manila were a favorite subject of postcards sent all over the world.

In the ‘50s, according to the People’s Petition being circulated on the matter, Manila Bay, covering the areas of Manila, Pasay, and Parañaque “was reserved for the purposes of a national park under Proclamation 41 in 1954 by President Ramon Magsaysay, to be known as the Manila Bay Beach Resort.”

 Forty years later, RA 7586 recognized the value of having a national park in the Manila Bay area and included it in the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of the same year, “notwithstanding the fact that portions of the Bay area of Pasay and Parañaque had already been reclaimed.”

The moves to reclaim more of the bay in 1992 were stopped by the citizens’ coalition in 1993. They convinced the city council of Manila to pass City Ordinance 7777 that same year “prohibiting any form of reclamation along Manila Bay from the US Embassy to the Cultural Center of the Philippines.”

We heard no more from the proponents of the reclamation from that point until a few years ago when in June of 2011, the City Council of Manila passed City Ordinance  8233 reversing the old ordinance and allowing  Manila Gold Coast Corporation to pursue the reclamation.

The petition explains the reasons why the planned 148-hectare reclamation needs to be stopped. First is the repercussion that Ermita and Malate may be exposed to more flooding. Related infrastructure problems also accompany the planned reclamation because of its size and location.

The second reason stated in the petition is that “Republic Act No. 7586 dated 1992 declares among others that the Manila Bay should be among the areas considered as a protected landscape and seascape of national significance …characterized by the harmonious interaction of man and land while providing opportunities for public enjoyment through recreation and tourism within the normal lifestyle and economic activity of these land areas.”

The fact is that the area of Roxas Boulevard and Manila Bay are national landmarks. The National Historical Commission of the Philippines has declared it so.

 Also undeniable is that this area of Manila Bay, along with the historic core consisting of Ermita, Malate and Intramuros “have been important tourism, art and culture destinations whose potential should be maximized…”

The issues raised with this planned reclamation points to a larger re-think of government’s policies for reclamation nationwide. This was clearly pointed out is a recent article in BluPrint by architect/planner and former president of the Philippine Institute of Environmental Design, Dinky Einsiedel entitled, “Do We Need Another Reclamation? An Argument Against the Madness”

Dinky argues that “Reclamation, by its very nature, is an environmentally invasive activity…altering the natural ecological system of shorelines and coastal areas. It also is an expensive alternative to creating more land supply for urban development purposes. Constructing roads and buildings on reclaimed land is also expensive because of the additional reinforcement required. Buildings on reclaimed land also tend to sway more violently during earthquakes, not to mention their higher risk to tsunami.”

He goes on to site proof of reclamation’s contribution to flooding, “…the Dagat-dagatan housing development in Navotas, adjacent to the Tondo Foreshore urban redevelopment project, which was developed in the late 1960s to accommodate the thousands of informal settler families displaced by the Manila North Harbor Container Port… has caused severe flooding in the coastal communities in Navotas and Malabon which never flooded before, because it lengthened the distance that flood waters have to travel to drain out to the sea.”

Eisiedel points out the physical reality of our metropolis stating that “Open to Manila Bay on the west and to Laguna Lake in the southeast, Metro Manila constitutes a vast urbanized drainage basin that experiences frequent inundations from overflowing rivers and storm waters which the existing system of esteros and canals constructed during the Spanish and American periods can no longer handle. Despite the growing vulnerability of much of the metropolitan area, however, rapid urbanization has continued unabated with residential, industrial, and commercial land uses increasingly exposed to flood-related destruction.”

Continuing the exposition, Dinky concludes that, “If more reclamation is carried out in Manila Bay, it is more likely that in the near future, flooding in Metro Manila will get worse before it gets better.”

I share his view about the larger context of urban problems and its potential solution in consolidating efforts, “The pressures of rapid and massive population growth and urbanization are simply outpacing the capacity of Metro Manila — whether this is taken to be the 17 local governments, or the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), or combined as one entity including the national government agencies based in the metropolis — to plan, manage and fund the more environmentally sensitive pattern of metropolitan development.”

Clearly, just opposing this reclamation is not enough to address overarching urban problems of Metro Manila. But it has to start here, and not stop until we all understand that we cannot impose our will on nature without repercussions.

It is not that the petitioners and other rationally-minded citizens are against development, but development — physical, social or economic —to be acceptable and sustainable, must be inclusive, transparent in its processes, and mindful of all impacts. Better development opportunities abound in metropolitan Manila than reclaiming land from our bay. Fractured governenance, a lack of metropolitan and regional planning, the free-market fetish for quick profit, politics and corruption get in the way.

We can only have a future where we get along, working together to protect the future of generations to come. We can only have a future when we realize that everything and everyone are linked together, and that these links with nature, with our heritage, with our fellow Metro Manilans, must be unbroken to work well.

Lets all link together in this human chain this Tuesday at the bay. Let us reclaim the right to our sunset, our metropolis, our heritage. Let’s bring back the love of nature, and not just quick profits, to this wonderful place we call home.

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Feedback is welcome. Please e-mail the writer at paulo.alcazaren@gmail.com.


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