|Beautiful Manila Bay with its world-famous sunset is threatened with reclamation projects.|
I have been riding taxis since I lost my driver and invariably I strike up conversation with the drivers---as they have always had their pulse on what's cooking in town. One cabbie commented that this taho episode is not surprising, as the Chinese girl's compatriots are now all over the metropolis. Perhaps they think they own the Philippines now, he asserted.
In fact, one cabbie pointed out that whole villages are being built for the Chinese south of the metropolis, and as everyone knows, they have been buying or leasing condominiums all over the Greater Manila area, driving up condo rentals for the locals.
In Facebook a woman wrote with ill-disguised irritation that when she brought her child to the emergency room of a downtown hospital, it was crawling with Chinese children and she could hardly be attended to. Others ascribe the current acute shortage of drivers, housemaids and office staff to the hiring of these personnel by Chinese corporations that have set up here. The latter are reported to be paying far higher wages than Filipinos.
It had long been the talk in town, corroborated by the Bureau of Immigration, that Chinese workers have been entering the country in droves, as they are setting up companies in various parts of the archipelago---especially in the industrial zones. The query in many minds: are they all properly documented?
The problem here is that while we welcome foreign investments into our country, under normal circumstances and as demonstrated by other foreign nationals, only the top officials are foreign nationals---the rest of the staff and workers would be Filipinos. This does not seem to be the case with the Chinese, who insist on bringing their own people by the hundreds and thousands. This explains why exclusive enclaves of the Chinese are going up in various parts of our country.
Do our leaders know what's happening, and is this seeming mass Chinese invasion part of a deal of sorts?
On another front, recall that there was a big hoopla in past weeks about the clean-up of Manila Bay, with lots of young people and various NGOs volunteering in this laudable project. Recall too, that various business establishments said to be polluting the historic bay have been admonished and some, like the Aristocrat Restaurant on Roxas Blvd., were even suspended from operating until they fix their environmental compliance. The project to clean up and save the Bay drew so much enthusiasm as most Metro Manilans feel sentimental about Manila Bay and watching its world-famous sunset has been a generational past-time.
But alas, like many things in this country, all the ballyhooed clean-up may come to naught. In a hearing last Tuesday at the House of Representatives, Joseph Literal, Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) assistant general manager for reclamation and regulation, told shocked congressmen that his agency is currently processing applications for 22 reclamation projects in Manila Bay that would likely affect some 22,000 hectares of our historic bay! Once approved, the projects would affect about 11% of the bay's 1,994 sq. km. area, doubtless in a manner that could compromise environmental sanitation!
Other sources actually say that the total reclamation projects in Manila Bay number 43!.
PRA Assistant GM Literal also stressed that these 22 (or 43?) projects scheduled in the metropolitan area are only part of some 120 reclamation projects in the whole country. Literal also admitted that of the 22 reclamation projects lodged before his agency, three have already been approved in principle---after the developers were said to have complied with Department of Environment and Natural Resources regulations.
These are the 360-has. Pasay reclamation project, the 140-has. Solar City project, and the Navotas Boulevard Business Park.
Among the most shocked solons at yesterday's hearing on the Bay's reclamation projects was former Manila Mayor and former Environment Secretary, now Buhay Party-list Rep. Joselito Atienza, who raised possible adverse effects of these projects on the environment. Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao joined Rep. Atienza in grilling the PRA official.
To Atienza's query on the possible ill effects of these reclamation projects on the environment, the PRA official admitted that there will be an effect, but he stressed that " 'systems' " would be put in place to reduce the environmental impact of the reclamation projects."
Fuming, Rep. Atienza shot back: "You are aware that there will be indeed effects on the environment
and yet you will still let these projects proceed---and just try to mitigate these adverse effects?" The former Manila Mayor stressed that "the effects will be catastrophic for all of us," beginning with the rise in sea levels. Atienza decried the "reclamation craze sweeping across the country which the PRA seems to just keep approving and approving without due diligence."
Anak-pawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, on the other hand, stressed that the reclamation of Manila Bay ought to be stopped as "it's threatening the genuine essence of its clean-up, so that it must be opposed." Indeed.
As a way to mitigate adverse reactions, Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano has stressed that all reclamation projects would be reviewed, but what complicates the matter is that according to recent news reports, the Office of the President has taken DIRECT CONTROL AND SUPERVISION over the PRA and its 43 reclamation projects in Manila Bay. Thus, the DILG appears to have been sidetracked in this issue.
In fact, the Inquirer carried last Tuesday a news item that one project in the Manila Bay Area has already been awarded to Dennis Uy, a businessman from Davao with close ties to President Duterte. His project involves 265-hectares of the Bay, called the Pasay Harbor City, estimated to cost some P62 billion.
I'm afraid that the side-tracking of the PRA in this issue would only worsen the environmental state of storied Manila Bay. It also does not encourage a picture of integrity for the Office of the President.
The query that will be left in citizens' minds: who stands to make money on these projects?
From various write-ups, we are given to understand that multi-function reclamation areas similar to those in cities like Dubai are being considered to be set up in Manila Bay, and presumably these would involve casinos, night-clubs and other high-end entertainment.
All these big-ticket reclamation projects would naturally involve enormous funds, some of which could be generously funneled to cooperative politicos in various areas, especially in this campaign season. But we citizens go back to the question: what is to happen to the historic Manila Bay, which has seen many a battle in our history and which boasts the most beautiful sunset in the world? The island of Corregidor, bathed in the blood of Filipino and American defenders during World War II, is part of the proud history of Manila Bay.
What was the much ballyhooed clean-up of Manila Bay---designed to benefit families---all about, if in the end it's just going to be polluted by reclamation and establishments that could cater mainly to gambling and other vices to be set up there? Who stands to profit from all these reclamation projects? We're already certain about the losers: it's the Filipino people.