By N.J. Viehland
Catholic News Service
MANILA, Philippines (CNS) — Bishops in dioceses that front Manila Bay have asked the government to scrap plans for a 94,000-acre reclamation project.
“For us bishops, worried about the poor who are affected severely by floods, we see that stopping the reclamation is seriously needed,” Auxiliary Bishop Bernardino Cortez of Manila told Catholic News Service.
Cardinal Luis Tagle, the country’s military bishop and bishops of 12 dioceses based in the Manila metropolitan area wrote President Benigno Aquino III, asking him to scrap the project and use the money to fund initiatives to alleviate poverty and protect the environment.
Bishop Cortez said that, as of Christmas day, he had not received any response to the letter.
“Advent is a very busy time of the year for priests and bishops with Misa de Gallo (Mass of the rooster, the dawn novena Mass), so we have not been informed of any progress, but in the first week of January, Cardinal will call us together to update us on the progress of our letter on land reclamation, if any,” Cortez told CNS.
Land reclamation is the process of creating new land from oceans, riverbeds or lakes by transporting soil from an area to a body of water to create new land.
In 1954, a presidential proclamation designated Manila Bay as a national park for the people. In 1992, Manila Bay was included in the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, even though some portions of the bay had already been reclaimed. Other local regulations and resolutions also mandated the protection and preservation of the appearance of the bay.
However in 1992, a group called the Manila Goldcoast Development Corp., lobbied for approval to reclaim the Manila Bay waterfront along Roxas Boulevard, between the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the U.S. Embassy.
The area was to be developed into an entertainment hub called Solar City and feature a commercial, residential and tourism center, including a man-made beach. Plans call for a cruise ship terminal expected to draw at least 2,500 tourists a week, said Edmundo Lim, corporate vice chairman. He said the project would boost tourist businesses in surrounding areas, create 100,000 jobs for construction workers and another 500,000 jobs once establishments and the site are operating.
In late 2013, Cardinal Tagle called the bishops together and, in consultation with Kelvin Rodolfo, retired University of Illinois professor of earth and environmental sciences, and Fernando Siringan, a marine scientist, the bishops concluded that reclamation in Manila Bay is “a very bad idea.”
In their Nov. 19 letter to Aquino, the bishops said they are ministering to people in provinces and cities that will endure the “far-reaching consequences” of the reclamation project.
Even without reclamation, continuing rapid and accelerating sinking of the coastal lands bordering the bay is worsening both floods and high-tide invasions, and the combination of surges and storm waves driven against Manila’s coasts by passing typhoons, the bishops wrote.
But the greatest hazard is liquefaction during earthquakes, which destroys buildings in coastal areas, whether they are on natural deposits or artificial reclamations, the church leaders added.
They mentioned the magnitude-7.2 earthquake that shook central Philippines provinces in October and the devastation of November’s Typhoon Haiyan, or Yolanda as it was known locally, as a warning of what could happen in the area of Manila Bay.
“Shall we allow more devastation and deaths to happen like what happened due to Typhoon Yolanda?” the bishops asked Aquino, also reminding him of the various laws protecting the intended reclamation areas.
“The scientific, legal and moral basis of our opposition for the reclamation of Manila Bay echoes God’s message,” bishops wrote.
“Our basic position is based on the question: Will the projected economic gains sufficiently and justifiably compensate the damages in life, ecosystems and property in the future? And at the end, who will benefit from the foreseen questionable gains and the culture of gambling, prostitution, greed and materialism that could emerge?”
The bishops invited Aquino to consider a possibly “wiser option” to boost tourism, cultural architectures, and to restore old historical sites and buildings, rather than build on reclaimed land to the detriment of the livelihood of people and the environment.
“The money for reclamation can better be spent for increasing and improving basic services to the people and for the protection of our ecosystems that can enhance ecotourism, employment opportunities and above all restore ecological balance,” they said.