Declare Manila Bay as Reclamation-Free Zone!

House Bill 257 Declare Manila Bay as Reclamation-Free Zone filed by Bayan Muna Representative Eufemia Cullamat and lawmakers under the Koalisyong Makabayan on July 1, 2019. Click to download.

Explanatory Note of House Bill 257 Declare Manila Bay as Reclamation-Free Zone

The Manila Bay is a heritage asset for the Filipino people. It has contributed to the historical, political, economic and cultural development of the country; thus, it deserves the utmost mutual appreciation of the people as a whole. From how civilization in pre-Spanish Manila flourished, through the Spanish invasion and resistance of early Filipinos, the thriving of the city as trade capital, the mock “Battle of Manila Bay,” the construction of the Cavite Boulevard under the American colonial period, the Japanese occupation, to the post-war and recent period, Manila has been a fabric of society on an individual and broader scales. Aside from giving the Filipino people one of the most beautiful sunsets of the world, it also offers a natural ecosystem that is safe haven to biodiversity even as it sustains whole communities of fisherfolk and working people who subsisted on the bay’s rich resources.

If anyone had rights over the Manila Bay, it is the Filipino people, and if it is to serve any purpose, it should be for the benefit of the general population, and not an elite few.

In September 2002, the people demanded for the preservation and protection of Manila Bay at a local court in Cavite against the government agencies. It was elevated in September 2005 to the Court of Appeals which issued an affirmative decision. Then in September 2008, the Supreme Court, conclusively decided that the government should clean-up, rehabilitate and preserve Manila Bay, and restore and maintain its waters to make them fit for swimming, skin-diving and other forms of contact recreation.

Aside from the legal path that the people had taken, various groups, especially the fisherfolk organization Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas or Pamalakaya-Pilipinas, have been demanding the preservation of Manila Bay through legal and democratic actions and protests, opposing reclamation projects such as the expansion of the Manila Bay Freeport Zone, including the Central Business Park which is home to the SM Central Business Park and SM Mall of Asia. In 2004, the group opposed the construction of the Navotas dumpsite, which is actually a reclaimed fishpond, located exactly in the bay, citing that it would potentially pollute Manila Bay.

Past administrations attempted to carry out the Supreme Court decision, but their actions were limited to bay clean-ups. The government has also attempted to undermine the Supreme Court decision by considering the worst form of destroying Manila Bay, reclamation.

The government, by not declaring Manila Bay as “reclamation-free,” is essentially undermining the 2008 Supreme Court decision. That decision bears the most basic idea that the people, who appealed to the high court to command the executive branch to clean up Manila Bay, is aspiring for it to be swimmable and fit for other forms of recreation. With reclamation projects, which are subsequently managed by big businesses in the private sector, the people would be deprived of the supreme right to Manila Bay, that is public access.

This bill advances the nobility of the Supreme Court decision to rehabilitate Manila Bay, which is to restore it to its previous glory, and to endow it, like the heritage that it is, to the people. This is the main essence of the subject matter that is hounding us at present.

Under the present administration, the issue of Manila Bay Rehabilitation has polarized society. On one side is the executive branch, with all its machineries and resources, which is using rehabilitation as a vehicle for reclamation. On the other is the united people demanding for a genuine rehabilitation of Manila Bay and its preservation by banning reclamation. The government is trying to sow confusion among the people. It acts all noble by drumming up the recent clean-up drives, with the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) assuring disapproval of any reclamation while the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) has pending reclamation projects to consider and the Office of the President basically announcing its authorization.

The government has also identified the poor sectors as casualties of the rehabilitation, part of its social costs. It is sweepingly judging them as culprits to polluting Manila Bay, and worse, intends to displace them from their sources of subsistence and livelihood and relocated to areas of uncertainty, separating them apart from the “people” should enjoy and benefit from what the bay has to offer. Such will be the fate of more than a hundred poor families in Cavite City, dwelling on the site of the proposed international airport at Sangley Point. Their only sin is for being too poor to install their own septic tank, while commercial establishments in Manila are given fair warnings or grace period, though polluting the bay for many years. The Sangley Point international airport project and the LGU-endorsed 320-hectare Bacoor Reclamation and Development project could displace 26,000 poor families from Cavite City, Bacoor City, Noveleta, Kawit and Rosario towns of the said province. In the name of “rehabilitation,” the government is aiming to displace more than 260,000 poor families, on which the bulk 160,000 families will come from coastal communities of Cavite province. Thus, the social cost includes the dislocation of 1 to 1.5 million Filipinos.

“Development” along Manila Bay, in actual fact, wiped out the mangrove ecosystem, from as broad as 54,000 hectares at the turn of the 20th century, to a measly 794 hectares in 1995. The 4,600-hectare wetlands, coral reefs and seagrass beds are obviously threatened. Not by the communities who rely on them for subsistence, but by reclamation projects that see no profits for them. The Commercial Business District of the Bay City alone, or the reclaimed area of Okada Manila in Paranaque City to the SM Esplanade Seaside Terminal in Pasay City, has destroyed almost 4 kilometers of the bay’s natural ecosystem.

Without the categorical admission of prohibiting reclamation in Manila Bay, the outrageous is in front of us. From the near 8-kilometer coastline from Okada Manila in Paranaque City to the Manila Ocean Park, the people could only “swim” as per mentioned on the Supreme Court decision, on a bantam 1.3-kilometer bay area in Malate, Manila, from the Manila Yacht Club to near the United States Embassy compound. It is clear as the blue sky of Manila Bay’s horizon that reclamation has deprived the people of public access. Without public access, the Supreme court decision fails pointless.

This bill was filed during the 17th Congress by the representatives of Anakpawis Party-list, Bayan Muna, ACT Teachers Party-list, Gabriela Women’s Party and Kabataan Party-list as assertion of the broad clamor of the affected fisherfolk and other sectors.

May this bill act as the collective and decisive will of the Filipino people to refute any stratagem of any party, that worships profit at the cost of undermining the people’s aspiration for a sincerely rehabilitated, restored and preserved Manila Bay. The approval of this bill is deemed critical and urgently sought.

House Bill 9067 Declare Manila Bay as Reclamation-Free Zone filed by Anakpawis Party-list Representative Ariel Casilao and lawmakers under the Koalisyong Makabayan during the 17th congress. Click to download.

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