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Opinion

Hurried

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

This is a case of townspeople fighting a version of “progress” espoused by those who govern them.

The Mandaue Regional Trial Court issued a status quo ante order against the municipal government of Consolacion in Cebu province, preventing the latter from shutting down the operations of five shipyards in the town. The order was issued at the request of the five shipyards.

The shipyards were refused permits to operate earlier this year by the municipal government led by Mayor Joanes Alegado and his mother, the vice mayor. On short notice, the shipyards were asked to relocate somewhere else to make way for an ambitious 235.8-hectare reclamation project along the town’s shoreline.

The population of two of Consolacion’s barangays depends entirely on the shipyards for their livelihood. About 25,000 Consolacion residents will be adversely affected here.

The grand property development plan, if carried out, will economically wipe out these two coastal barangays. Residents of the two barangays are, obviously, resisting the reclamation project.

The economic fallout ripples out from there.

The shipyards the municipal government is trying to shut down serve 70 percent of ships in the Northern Mindanao and Central Visayas areas. In addition, these shipyards service the Philippine Navy. It is not easy to relocate shipyards on short notice and build new ones in areas where the local population is unprepared for this highly skilled industry.

The Consolacion shipyards have been serving the surrounding regions for generations. Without the expertise provided by these shipyards, the repair and maintenance of shipping in the region will be drastically affected.

The massive reclamation project envisioned by the ruling Alegado family will affect shipping along the entire Cebu coastline. The area is currently used as anchorage for ships waiting to be berthed at the Cebu port. It is also a sanctuary for ships during inclement weather. Reclamation will choke the channel leading to this vital port, forcing all shipping to crowd into a narrow passage.

The stakeholders – the shipyards, the communities dependent on shipbuilding and the shipping companies using the Cebu port – have not been consulted in what appears to be a quixotic project.  The Alegado son and mother do not seem to appreciate the scope of consensus that must be built before this project proceeds.

The area to be reclaimed has been declared anchorage area by the Cebu Port Authority. The agency appears clueless about what is going on even as the reclamation project will wipe out the designated anchorage area.

Because no consultations with stakeholders were held, the affected enterprises and communities are in the dark about the details of the reclamation project.

What little is known revolves around a newly incorporated company, the La Consolacion Seafront Development Corporation (LCSD). This company proposing to reclaim a 235-hectare seafront is only capitalized at P10 million. Politicians from Luzon are rumored to be the main partners of LCSD.

The reclamation project does not even have an Environmental Clearance Certificate from the DENR. It could take years to acquire this clearance. Given the widespread effects on shipping and the channel, clearance might not be granted at all. Any application will likely be opposed not only by the shipping lines but also by the environmental groups.

Since LCSD is not in possession of an environmental clearance certificate, people of the town wonder why the local government is moving with such indecent haste to kill off shipbuilding, the town’s main economic pillar. The only explanation for the rush to kill off the shipyards is that the local government is racing against political time. A change of administration might alter the political climate necessary to carry out this project.

Cebu has a long coastline. The reclamation/property development project could be carried out elsewhere with less economic dislocation. It does not seem wise that a reclamation project is being planned so close to the Port of Cebu, in a densely populated area dependent on the shipyards and affecting a portion of the channel designated as anchorage area.

The ruling family of Consolacion provides us no answers to these. In fact, they have disclosed few details about the project except the size of the area to be reclaimed.

Instead of providing the crucial details of this project, they railed against those who are opposing “progress” for the town. They are trying to shape the narrative into one between “change” and those who oppose it.

Cebu City and its adjacent municipalities is a crowded place. The Port of Cebu is a congested facility that is hardly able to accommodate the volume of shipping in the area. The channel between Cebu City and Mactan is a narrow channel, as Magellan found out five centuries ago.

A 235-hectare reclamation project astride the narrow channel, right smack in the designated anchorage area for ships, is a very large piece of real estate. There are billions to be made from realizing this project. But there are trillions to be lost if it renders the Port of Cebu unusable. All the industries that brought economic boom to Cebu could be turned away by the congestion at the channel.

In addition to detailed environmental impact studies, therefore, the LCSD project must be reviewed in terms of how it will affect the economic roadmap for the area. If the port is cut off and the channel choked, this reclamation project could be killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

This property development project of course assumed that Cebu’s economic boom would continue indefinitely. If that boom is constrained by the reclamation, no one will buy into the project.

REGIONAL TRIAL COURT
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