Government reviewing Manila Bay reclamation projects for violations

THE DEPARTMENT of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is reviewing all reclamation projects in Manila Bay for their impact on the environment, according to its chief.

Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga on Tuesday said the Marcos government had given her “latitude” to review the projects, allowing her to pursue a cumulative impact assessment.

“Globally, the practice, whenever you have several projects in a single ecosystem, is you need a cumulative impact assessment,” she told a news briefing. “So we are undertaking that.”

The reclamation projects, which Ms. Yulo-Loyzaga did not name, have impeded the Environment department’s mandate to preserve Manila Bay, she said.   

There are about 20 reclamation projects in Manila Bay, which straddles about eight provinces inside and outside Metro Manila. Green and fisherfolk groups have asked the government to revoke the environmental compliance certificates issued to these projects, citing their impacts on the environment and communities.

Ms. Yulo-Loyzaga also said the agency is still assessing the environmental impacts of the Pasig River Expressway project.

She said the agency had no timeline yet as to when it may issue a clearance to the P95-billion joint venture of the Philippine National Construction Corporation and San Miguel Corp.

“There is no timeframe,” she said. “The investigation is ongoing in terms of the cumulative impact.”

Meanwhile, the government of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. aims to reforest two million of the eight million hectares of unforested land in the Philippines, Ms. Yulo-Loyzaga said.

Only seven million of 15 million hectares forest land in the Philippines have forest cover, she said.

“Realistically speaking, we cannot complete the 15 million,” she said. “We have prioritized the first million, and we are looking at two million hectares that we would like to reforest once again.”

Ms. Yulo-Loyzaga said reforesting a million hectares of land is the Marcos administration’s “modest target.”

“Two million is our reach,” she added, noting that the success of the reforestation targets would also depend on the efforts of its partners.

Ms. Yulo-Loyzaga said it would be difficult to predict how many hectares of land could be reforested until the end of the six-year term of Mr. Marcos Jr. in 2028.

The Environment chief said the agency aims to start reforestation efforts in Cagayan Valley in the north and in Mindanao in southern Philippines.

Ms. Yulo-Loyzaga attended a Cabinet meeting with the president, where they discussed the agency’s newly created geospatial database office would help the government map out the country’s natural resources, including forests, minerals, water and land.

“It will allow us to identify our priorities in terms of forestation, reforestation, afforestation,” she said, adding that the office would use satellite imagery and other tools to pinpoint the natural resources that need to be accounted for, valued and managed properly.

The database office could also help the government in its climate change mitigation efforts.

Ms. Yulo-Loyzaga said the office would help in flood management and soil erosion control, as well as in sustaining community-based livelihoods as a way of managing the country’s forest.

“There is a social and economic component as well,” the Environment chief said. By using software, the office can anticipate how much atmospheric carbon dioxide can be captured and stored.

Ms. Yulo-Loyzaga said they set up the geospatial database office without any additional budget.

The department plans to build more capacity and acquire satellite imaging, processing and software that it needs to continue doing its work, she added.

The agency is working with the Philippine Space Agency on the use and procurement of the satellite images to be used and processed by the geospatial database office, she said. — K.A.T. Atienza