Reclamation projects loom in Manila Bay, what does this mean for the natural harbor?

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 18) — Despite numerous calls to end land reclamation – the process of creating new land from nearby bodies of water by filling them with rocks, cement, clay, or dirt – many such projects dot Manila Bay, an area which spans Metro Manila to Calabarzon.

CNN Philippines takes a look at the reclamation activities around the vital natural harbor, and the conflicting claims surrounding them.

Only 13 projects, PRA claims

The Philippine Reclamation Authority on Aug. 14 told CNN Philippines’ The Source that there were 22 reclamation projects around the whole country.

READ: PRA: Less than 5% of Manila Bay covered by 13 reclamation projects

PRA Assistant General Manager Joseph Literal said 13 of these were concentrated in Metro Manila and some parts of Cavite, which is in Calabarzon.

Literal added the projects only cover 5,000 to 6,000 hectares compared to Manila Bay’s almost 200,000 hectares.

He noted that two of these reclamation projects have been seeking approval for years. One project sought approval in the late 1990s. Another one applied between 2013 to 2014.

As for the remaining projects, Literal told CNN Philippines in an interview that these were applied for under the Duterte administration, when Roy Cimatu was the Environment Secretary.

The PRA is the state’s lead instrument in regulating reclamation, creating environmentally sustainable reclaimed land, promoting coastal resilience, and developing government properties.

CNN Philippines sought further information from the PRA and from Cimatu on the reclamations but has yet to receive a response.

What does the DENR say?

However, contrary to the claims of the PRA, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) disclosed that 22 reclamation projects were, in fact, based in the Manila Bay area and not all throughout the country.

“There are 22 reclamation projects in Manila Bay AREA including on-going, those with permits and those still in the paperworks/permit stage,” the DENR told CNN Philippines through email correspondence on Friday.

“When you talk of Manila Bay, you refer to a huge area from Region 4A, NCR and Region 3. The subject of the suspension are the 22 in the Manila Bay AREA and not the entire Philippines,” it continued.

These are the 22 projects which were earlier suspended by the DENR, but it did not specify why these were halted or when the suspension would be lifted. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. previously said all but one had been nixed.

READ: All reclamation projects in Manila Bay suspended, DENR clarifies

These 22 include ongoing projects, those already granted permits, and those still seeking Environmental Compliance Certificates from the DENR, authorization from the PRA, and area clearance.

Of the 22 Manila Bay area reclamations, 15 are in the National Capital Region. Three are currently in development, it said.

The remaining seven are in Calabarzon, according to the agency.

The DENR refused to be interviewed on the subject, though CNN Philippines is seeking further clarification on the projects.

Calls to cease reclamation

Lawmakers, environmental groups, and even foreign diplomats have called for a stop to the reclamation, citing environmental damage and a project contractors’ possible ties to China.

Fisherfolk group PAMALAKAYA earlier demanded that the DENR end reclamation until it could “scientifically prove that their projects have not aggravated the flood hazards in these coastal areas,” citing Bulacan and Pampanga which were inundated in the aftermath of Typhoons Egay and Falcon.

PAMALAKAYA, citing geologist Dr. Kevin Rodolfo, said that the projects bring "the danger of land subsidence, danger of storm surge and strong waves caused by typhoon, and danger from seismically induced liquefaction."

READ: DENR urged to suspend reclamation projects in Manila Bay amid 'worsening' flooding

The US Embassy likewise raised concerns over environmental damage but also pointed out that one of the contracted firms had helped Beijing construct and militarize artificial islands in the contested South China Sea.

"We are also concerned that the projects have ties to the China Communications Construction Co. [CCCC], which has been added to the US Department of Commerce's Entity List for its role in helping the Chinese military construct and militarize artificial islands in the South China Sea," the embassy said.

It said CCCC has also been cited by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for engaging in fraudulent business practices.

Chinese incursions and harassment of Filipino vessels in the West Philippine Sea, meanwhile, have heightened tensions between Manila and Beijing.

READ: US Embassy expresses concern over ongoing Manila Bay reclamation projects

Senators echoed the US Embassy’s concern over the projects' possible China ties, saying that the contractor in question should be investigated and possibly banned from the country.

READ: Lawmakers raise concerns over Chinese state firm's ties to Manila Bay reclamation

This story will be updated with further developments.