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Reclamation fever

Monday, June 10, 2013
SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan | 92 Views

Among the most scenic but little appreciated drives in Metro Manila and neighboring areas is Coastal Road. Southbound past Airport Road going to the NAIA and the urban blight of Parañaque, past the spot where fresh water from Las Piñas washes out into Manila Bay, a lush mangrove forest has developed.

On any day, flocks of seafowl, including the endangered Philippine duck and Chinese egret, can be seen flying, wading, catching fish in the mangrove lagoon.

Recently the World Bank launched in Bangkok a study on disaster risk management. Among the medium to long-term measures proposed by the WB for disaster risk mitigation is the establishment of “gray” concrete and cost-effective “green” infrastructure. These include mangroves, wetland buffers and coastal restoration.

The green fence is already there along Coastal Road, part of the 175-hectare Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area. But it may soon give way to commercial development and a P14-billion reclamation of 635 hectares of Manila Bay after the Court of Appeals threw out a petition to stop the reclamation.

Appellate Court Associate Justices Apolinario Bruselas, Rebecca De Guia-Salvador and Samuel Gaerlan ruled that the petition was premature and lacked merit. Several groups are pursuing the complaint against the developer, All Tech Contractors Inc.

The appellate court justices may be correct, but by the time the attempt to stop the project is no longer premature, it’s likely that the mangroves and marine habitat would have already been destroyed and the reclamation a fait accompli.

Developers can argue that they are simply extending the coastline and the bay view will still be there. But based on previous private development projects on government-reclaimed land, you can see that if people want to enjoy the view, they will have to pay for it, at the very least for parking. Bayfront residential communities are gated and off-limits to the public.

With 7,100 islands and water almost anywhere you turn in this archipelago, I don’t know why we have to keep reclaiming large tracts of tiny Manila Bay, much of it for private commercial purposes. Maybe developers think the water is so polluted anyway that swimming has been banned (ignored by many) in the waters off Roxas Boulevard, so it doesn’t matter if the bay is reclaimed all the way to Corregidor from the city of Manila. Not even recent destructive storm surges have dampened the reclamation fever.

The sunset, a source of pride for Pinoys, is a national heritage that should be enjoyed for free by everyone. But most of the remaining areas where the public can relax and enjoy the view for free are either heavily polluted or characterized by grinding poverty.

There are fewer and fewer spots where you can enjoy the Manila Bay sunset unimpeded by barbecue and fast-food outlets. In that short open stretch along Roxas Boulevard where the water is closest to the original shoreline, all the street people are out in force by sunset. Farther north, where you can still see the waves breaking against the shore, is the former city dump and Dan Brown’s Gates of Hell.

Down south in Cavite, most of the beaches facing the bay are private resorts, such as Puerto Azul.

The only stretch where you can enjoy a view of the bay, with mangrove areas and fishing communities rather than concrete buildings around you, is along Coastal Road and the Manila-Cavite Expressway or Cavitex, which exits in Kawit.

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The proposed reclamation project is a cause for concern among residents and regular commuters in western Metro Manila and the bay communities.

Haphazard reclamation of the salt beds of Parañaque dammed up natural waterways leading out to the bay, causing massive flooding even in a regular downpour in many areas, including the tarmac of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Late last Friday night, traffic crawled along the southbound lane of Roxas Boulevard and Macapagal Boulevard because of flooding. Along Macapagal, traffic aides spoke into handheld radios but seemed concerned chiefly with keeping open the road leading to Solaire casino.

If the traffic aides, whose principal concern is collecting fines from motorists who go beyond the speed trap 60-kph limit, had bothered walking just a block down the road where there was heavy flooding, they would have ended the traffic jam by allowing counter-flow on the northbound lane where there were few vehicles and there was no flooding.

A bus driver saw the situation and drove against the traffic without waiting for directions from the traffic aides. Everyone else followed suit, ending the two-hour gridlock.

And that was just after a brief downpour. Think of the chaos when the torrential monsoon rains start. President Aquino must tell Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Francis Tolentino he’s not kidding when he wants better traffic management.

Flood control and traffic management are among the components of disaster preparedness. We’re awful at both. In Metro Manila and Cavite, things are bound to get worse as Manila Bay progressively shrinks from indiscriminate reclamation.

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