FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

The debate over the Manila Bay reclamation projects is ultimately a clash of sensibilities.

On one side, there are the conservationists who hark back to an age when white beaches lined the Parañaque seafront and where the view of the Bay’s blazing sunset is unperturbed. That age will never return. But they will fight reclamation to the end for a romantic vision of what the Bay should be.

On the other side, the metropolis is land-starved and the only way to build anything of significance is to reclaim land. Developers have invested decades drawing up the engineering plans for new economic nodes that will not clog water channels and add to the pollution of the Bay. Most of these engineering designs use state-of-the-art technologies for water treatment and traffic management.

This is an irresolvable debate between romantics and pragmatists. The former would rather the Bay remains as it is. The latter believes reclamation will bring huge benefits to a metropolitan area that has run out of space to grow.

Reclaiming land from the Bay is not anything new. The western portion of Intramuros is reclaimed land. During the Spanish colonial period, the authorities thought it best to deepen the South Harbor, using the sludge to fill up the fort.

Bagumbayan, the open field where Jose Rizal was shot, is called such because it was new land taken from the Bay. Roxas Boulevard involved major reclamation. The Cultural Center complex, including the PICC and Sofitel, sits on reclaimed land. The entire Mall of Asia complex, up to the bird sanctuary that strangely sits on the flight path of planes, have all been taken from the sea.

Nor is reclamation something only Filipinos do. The sprawling Kansai airport, off Osaka, is a man-made island sitting right in the middle of a bay. The majestic Hong Kong airport was built on reclaimed land. Singapore has clawed back precious land from the sea to create a vibrant ultra-modern commercial zone.

Last month, after storms inundated Central Luzon, there was huge outcry against reclamation projects in Manila Bay – even as no causality between the reclamation projects and the floods could be established. One senator, carried away by his own grandstanding, pledged to resign if it is proven the projects did not cause the floods. That defies elementary logic: the negative could not be proven. But no one expects this senator to actually resign.

Responding to the outcry, President Marcos ordered the Manila Bay reclamation projects “suspended.” The timetable for keeping these projects suspended is not clear. The engineering plans have been studied and restudied for decades. They were approved by all the concerned agencies and given clearance to proceed.

There are billions and billions in sunk (literally and figuratively) costs in these projects. While work is suspended, the financing costs continue to run – estimated at hundreds of thousands of dollars per day. If the suspension continues indefinitely, the investors could bleed into bankruptcy akin to what is happening to China’s biggest property developers today.

The least the President could do is to provide a deadline for the “studies” to be done. Or else the constantly shifting policy in this case could be another major blow to investor confidence in our economy.

Arrest warrants

The Court of Appeals recently upheld the ruling of the Bacolod City court related to the family squabble among the Yanson siblings.

The Bacolod court found that the July 7, 2019 “special board meeting” held by four of the Yanson siblings to remove Leo Rey Yanson from company leadership was illegal. The four siblings had physical control of the head offices of Vallacar Transit Inc. (VTI) from July 7 to Aug. 5, 2019.

Leo Rey and family matriarch Olivia took the matter to court. The Bacolod court found probable cause to the charges of carnapping, grave coercion and qualified theft filed against the Yanson 4. As a consequence, arrest warrants were issued against the siblings involved in the failed corporate takeover. At least one of the alleged crimes is non-bailable.

In order to evade arrest, the Yanson 4 fled abroad. They remain outside Philippine jurisprudence to this day.

Meanwhile, Leo Rey Yanson, allied with his mother Olivia, has since been in full control of the VTI – the largest land transport company in the country. This is the concrete outcome of the Bacolod court ruling that the “special board meeting” conducted by the Yanson 4 was illegal.

The Court of Appeals petition seeking to reverse the finding of probable cause by the Bacolod regional trial court was initiated by the lawyers for the Yanson 4. That backfired massively as the CA Cebu affirmed the lower court’s findings.

The cases against the Yanson 4, including the arrest warrants against the perpetrators of the failed corporate coup, stand. A supplemental CA Cebu order affirmed the warrants of arrest against the four siblings remain in effect.

Lawyers for the Yanson 4 indicate they will elevate the matter to the Supreme Court, specifically questioning the warrants issued by Judge Ana Celeste Pinero Bernad of the Bacolod City Regional Trial Court Branch 44. In the face of the CA Cebu affirmation of the lower court’s findings, it is not clear what matter of law is involved to merit such elevation.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the Yanson 4 claim the Cebu CA effectively invalidated the arrest warrants issued against the siblings. The only way to test that is for the fugitive siblings to return home and face the music.

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