DENR to check mangrove planting 'malpractices' at Bulacan airport site

DENR to check mangrove planting 'malpractices' at Bulacan airport site
This 2019 file photo shows Barangay Taliptip in Bulakan, Bulacan
Philstar.com / Efigenio Toledo IV, file

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 3:41 p.m.) — A group of scientists welcomes an environment department order to stop mangrove planting related to a planned airport in Bulacan pending results of a review into how the mangroves are being planted.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources wrote San Miguel Aerocity Inc. in late October to stop mangrove planting while a monitoring team looks into "malpractices" flagged by environmental groups. Among the conditions for the Environmental Compliance Certificate granted to the New Manila International Airport is the planting of at least 5,000 propagules in areas identified by the local government.

In a statement on Friday, AGHAM (Advocates of Science and Technology for the People) said that it and other groups under People's Network for the Integrity of Coastal Habitats and Ecosystems (People's NICHE) wrote the DENR in September over concerns that the wrong species of mangroves was being planted in one of the areas in Bulakan, Bulacan.

"A previous assessment by AGHAM showed that dominant mangroves in Bulacan are Sonneratia and Avicennia, which are the appropriate species for planting in the seaward zone," AGHAM said, adding mangrove pneumatophores were destroyed in the mangrove planting activities.

SPECIAL REPORT: Fed by the waters: Coastal waters in Bulacan that have provided food and livelihood for decades may soon be paved over for an airport project

"Pneumatophores are specialized root systems that facilitate gas exchange and thus are important parts of mangrove trees. Given these harmful, irresponsible and unscientific practices, it is apparent that there is lack of proper consultation with local stakeholders, especially scientists," the scientists' group said.

It said that while planting mangroves can help mitigate climate change, wrong practices like planting inappropriate species "may have negative implications on the immediate ecosystem." 

AGHAM added that a survival rate of 90% reported by San Miguel Corp. "is rather rare or highly unusual" for mangrove planting as it called for assessment by an independent third party.

AGHAM, which has opposed reclamation of parts of Bulakan, Bulacan because of environmental and food security concerns, said that it had previously raised the alarm on mangrove cutting in the area in May "just three weeks before DENR issued an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) to SMC." 

It also said that that "at least 40 fisherfolk were reportedly detained and threatened by military personnel" in late October, saying these incidents should prompt cancellation of the ECC for the project.

In previous interviews with Philstar.com, residents of Barangay Taliptip in Bulakan who would be relocated so the airport could be built said they had been told that they would no longer be allowed to fish in the area once work on the new airport begins.  

SMC found them relocation sites and provided livelihood support for some of the families from Taliptip. — Jonathan de Santos

(Editor's note: The airport that will be built in Bulacan is the New Manila International Airport. The Manila International Airport, properly the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, has already been built and is in Pasay City.)

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