Airport land dev’t set; Writ of Kalikasan sought

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    By MYLA IGLESIAS and JED MACAPAGAL

    San Miguel Corp. (SMC) has awarded a $1.73-billion contract with Boskalis Philippines Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dutch firm Royal Boskalis Westminster N.V., for land development works that will jumpstart the construction of the Manila International Airport (MIA) project in Bulacan in the first quarter.

    This developed as civil society group Oceana and some fishermen affected by the airport project yesterday filed at the Supreme Court a Writ of Kalikasan in a bid to stop the reclamation of Manila Bay.

    In a statement, Ramon Ang, SMC president and chief operating officer, said Boskalis was chosen after a rigorous selection process that included the world’s biggest and best dredging companies.

    “Our selection of a global giant in dredging shows how ready, willing, and committed we are to do everything necessary to make sure this airport project is developed properly and sustainably.

    We will make sure it will serve and benefit Filipinos, our host province Bulacan, and the rest of the Philippines, for many generations to come,” Ang said in a statement.

    Ang added the preparatory works on land development at the airport site in Bulakan, Bulacan will start in the first quarter of 2021 and will be fully completed by 2024. The contract is valued at approximately $1.8 billion.

    Boskalis has committed to ensure the area will be suitable for development. It will be
    designed with the highest technical and environmental standards, so it can withstand potential large earthquakes, local typhoon conditions, and even future sea level rise.

    “During the construction phase, we will contribute to the local economy and the new airport will bring further growth to the whole Manila region,” said Peter Berdowski, Boskalis chief executive officer.

    Boskalis’ workplan and methodology include measures to prevent soil liquefaction in the entire area.

    Boskalis, a global dredging contractor with a rich heritage and successful track record spanning more than a century, is known for major projects worldwide such as the ongoing development of Singapore’s Tuas Terminal Phase 2 port and its Tekong polder projects.

    It is also involved in other landmark projects worldwide, such as the development of the Songdo International City in South Korea, Punta Pacifica Islands in Panama, five islands in Makassar in Indonesia, and the Ijburg residential area in Amsterdam.

    Meanwhile, petitioners of the Writ of Kalikasan cited the need to save marine creatures, endangered migratory birds, mangroves, marine habitats as well as the livelihood of fishermen.

    Gregorio Viterbo Jr., legal counsel of Oceana, said in an online briefing yesterday the case was anchored on three grounds, including violation and circumvention of environmental laws.

    “The proponents lack and Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) for an airport. What they only have on record is ECC for land development which does not mention the airport,” Viterbo said.

    Viterbo said the airport will affect the habitat of migratory birds in the area and will subsequently have an impact to the entire ecosystem and will increase the risk of climate change.

    The writ also pushes for the issuance of a court order declaring as invalid the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Freedom of Information Manual which exempts environmental impact statement from public disclosure.

    A Writ of Kalikasan is a legal remedy that provides protection of a person’s constitutional right to a healthy environment.

    Ang said he will address all concerns raised once they receive a copy of the petition.

    But he said SMC has started initiatives to proactively address the social and environmental impacts of the “much-needed project.”

    “Even as the airport project itself has yet to start, we have already started a multi-river system dredging initiative—starting with the P1 billion cleanup of the 27-km. Tullahan-Tinajeros river system—as part of long-term solutions to flooding in Bulacan province. The planting of 200,000 mangroves to further protect coastal areas throughout the province and Central Luzon, is also well underway,” he explained.

    “We have also commissioned a foreign firm to conduct a comprehensive and independent study of all possible environment impacts, to ensure these will be taken into consideration and addressed in the development stage,” Ang said.