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Opinion

Snorkelers video live corals, debunk reclamation planners

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Circulating online is a video of live corals just off the coast of Dumaguete, heightening debates against a city reclamation plan. Shown are snorkelers wading a few meters from shore to an area to be landfilled into a 174-hectare artificial island. In shoulder-deep water, colorful tropical fish are seen feeding in the sea grass and vari-hued corals. Filmed last weekend, it debunks city officials’ claim that their project won’t be destructive. Concreting will smother the corals where fish spawn and grow. Gone will be poor folk’s source of free food and natural social security.

Eight eminent Dumaguete citizens lament that reclamation “will destroy, literally bury, the few remaining coral reef, sea grass and soft-sediment eco-systems that support small-scale fisheries.” More than 200 fish species will be affected. Local fishermen rely on 60 percent of these for livelihood and subsistence.

Dumaguete’s seafloor is steep, the eight scientists note. Reclamation will require “enormous amounts of material... likely to be sourced from land or dredged from deeper areas.” Damage to deeper marine eco-systems can decimate 84 percent of the fish species.

More than seven kilometers of landfill will mar Dumaguete’s 8.5-kilometer-long coastline. Four nearby marine protected areas (MPAs) will be choked and die, the eight warn. The eco-systems of the rest of Negros Island and Cebu across the Tañon Strait will be affected.

National Scientist Angel Alcala, one of the eight, originated the MPA concept in the 1970s. It has been replicated worldwide to benefit small fishermen. Alcala, a former secretary of environment and natural resources, initiated the protest. Seven signed with him: Drs. Betty McCann and Ben Malayang, present and past presidents of Silliman University in Dumaguete; Hilconida Calumpong, PhD, director, SU-Institute of Environmental & Marine Sciences (IEMS); Rene Abesamis, PhD, SU-Center for Research and Environmental Management; Dr. Enrique Oracion, dean, SU graduate school and director, Research and Development Center; Janet Estacion, PhD, assistant director, IEMS; and Robert Guinoo, PhD, SU Biology Department.

About 10,000 have signed an online petition against the reclamation. A number of them are from Dumaguete and Central Visayas.

Legal questions also bug the project. City Hall gave only 26 days instead of 60 for Swiss challenge to the original proposal, as required by the Build-Operate-Transfer Law, Atty. Golda Benjamin alleges. Reclamation will be by joint venture with a private proponent, which violates the city ordinance on such works, she adds.

There have been no submissions, much more approval, by the National Economic and Development Authority, Benjamin says. Proponent E.M. Cuerpo, Inc. has entered into a “secret subcontractor agreement” with a Guangdong firm, the lawyer reveals. The latter, Poly Changda Overseas Engineering Co., supposedly has no license to operate in the Philippines and is not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

She also questions the capability of E.M. Cuerpo, a quadruple-A rated constructor with P1.4-billion net worth, to undertake the P23-billion project. The venture is 51 percent city-owned and 49 percent private.

City hall is to build a “Smart City” on the reclamation. Development includes 5G-ready connections, coastal wastewater treatment facility, shoreline, slope and water protection, esplanades, modern ferry boats, marina and open area for sports facility, hospitals, residences, condominiums, malls and other business hubs. To be completed in three years, the P23-billion investment will multiply in value.

City officials plan to relocate the corals. Alcala and colleagues find it infeasible. “Recreation of entire functional marine ecosystems simply does not exist. The vast majority of coral reef rehabilitation around the world has been unable to scale up” to the original hundreds to thousands of hectares, due to huge costs.

The technical, legal and due-diligence reviews have not been revealed, they say. “Absent this, the sociology, ecology and economics of the project are unclear.” There has been no free and prior informed public consent, they add. There must first be “full public disclosure and scrutiny.”

Mayor Felipe Remollo and Vice Mayor Karissa Tolentino-Maxino aver to have studied the project thoroughly. So have majority of councilors who gave Remollo authority to sign and award the deal. E.M. Cuerpo made the offer in 2019.

Watch snorkeling video: https://www.facebook.com/618913328/posts/d41d8cd9/10159196629658329/

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“Gotcha: An Exposé on the Philippine GovernmentG is available as e-book and paperback. Get a free copy of Chapter 1: BeijingCs Bullying and Duplicitys. Simply subscribe to my newsletter at: https://jariusbondoc.com/#subscribe. Book orders also accepted there.

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