STUPEFYING and mind-boggling are adjectives you seldom hear from a President, even from Trump whose pastime is writing and sharing his thoughts on Twitter.
But these are the words President Duterte used to describe several proposals filed with the government seeking to reclaim portions of Manila Bay for commercial, residential and leisure purposes. The latest of these proposals and feasibility studies include the Navotas City Coastal Bay Reclamation Project, a 360-hectare Reclamation Project in Pasay City, a second 265-hectare reclamation project also in Pasay City, and the Horizon Manila’s 418-hectare reclamation project.
Before former Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, also a former President, left City Hall in June last year, there were five reclamation projects already approved by the city and awaiting approval by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Malacanang Palace. These projects may be the motivating factor why incumbent Mayor Isko Moreno moved heaven and earth to ensure his winning the elections in Manila. But all these will come to naught if President Duterte sticks to his word.
“Not under my watch,” the President’s words were emphatic, as he stressed he was unlikely to approve any proposed reclamation project in Manila Bay as he expressed concern on these ambitious projects’ impact on the environment in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
It is interesting to note that the Office of the President’s own Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) has a contrary announcement or position on this issue, as the PRA last month assured that at least four reclamation projects in Manila Bay were already proceeding without problems.
PRA General Manager Joselito Gonzales even cited in a radio interview that four proposals – Navotas, Manila and two in Pasay City – had been given the green light. But this is typical of the way governance is conducted inside the Duterte Administration: the officials below are often not told of decisions made at the top. Often, too, some officials are considered out of the loop.
Duterte said it was simply “mind-boggling” to reclaim a total of 10,000 hectares from the waters off Manila Bay and dump rocks and soil in the area, to be able to construct buildings, roads and resorts. The President talked about where all the waste water would go, whether marine life in the Bay would survive this onslaught of modernization.
“You have to make an audit now of whether or not the environment of the entire area there can absorb the waste and where would it go after being treated. Because now, you must have water treatment. If you have a new building, make sure you are connected to water treatment facility,” Duterte added.
Duterte said he was not ready to approve reclamation projects if there were no concrete plans showing how the environment would be protected. This policy will again put the President in direct collision with oligarchs and the very rich who have invested and are preparing to invest in these reclamation projects. And not to mention the mayors, vice mayors and councilors of Manila, Pasay City, Paranaque, Navotas and similar places who have salivated and planned on how to spend all the money that are forthcoming from these reclamation projects.