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Contentious reclamation

Reclamation projects are often flashpoints between environmentalists and real estate developers.

At present, there are plans to reclaim parts of Manila Bay for the construction of commercial and residential buildings, including an expressway that will act as a coastal sea barrier and flood control system.

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The reclamation of about 1,500 hectares of land is also included in the Cavite provincial government’s proposal to the Department of Transportation to build a $9.3-billion airport in Sangley Point, Cavite.

This early, however, that proposal may not even reach first base because, according to Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, President Duterte is averse to land reclamation.

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Pernia’s statement must have been music to the ears of environmentalists who have been campaigning for years for the government to go slow, if not stop, the conversion of sea beds to artificial landmasses.

Their opposition revolves primarily on the reclamation’s adverse effects on the livelihood of the affected residents and fishermen, the natural habitat of the birds and other creatures living in coastal areas, and the free flow of water from the city to the sea.

The tree huggers (as environmentalists are sometimes referred to by the media) have urged the proponents of reclamation projects to give more attention to their environmental impact than to the profits they expect to reap from them.

For real estate developers and business operators, however, reclamation projects are necessary because they help meet the demand for residential and commercial space by a growing population.

The argument has been raised that there is only so much that can be built on existing real property. There is a limit, in terms of engineering and human acceptability, on how high buildings can be constructed for residential and commercial purposes.

If the infrastructure project involved is, for example, an airport, and there is no land available for that purpose, the only way to make that facility a reality is look to the sea and convert parts of it to landmasses.

Once built, the airport will speed up the movement of people and products and provide additional jobs and, in the process, contribute to the economic development of the country.

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From this perspective, the fears expressed by environmentalists may be considered a small price to pay for the economic benefits that would redound to many of our countrymen.

Considering that we have laws that impose strict rules and regulations on the protection of the environment, there should really be no serious disagreements over the need for or propriety of reclamation projects.

But the problem is, once the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issues the environmental clearance certificate for projects that have strong environmental impact, the people behind the projects are practically left to their own accord.

It is only when the project causes, or threatens to cause, serious damage to the health or welfare of the people living near it and the matter catches the media’s attention that the DENR wakes up and asserts its oversight authority over the project.

While it is true that reclamation projects often result in adverse environmental consequences to the affected areas and their people, it is something we have to bear or endure because of the needs of the times.

At the rate our population has been growing in spite of government efforts to regulate it, and the available land fit for residential and commercial purposes shrinking, there is no choice but look to the shorelines (of which our country is abundantly blessed with) for relief.

We can take a leaf from the way Singapore undertook reclamation projects with minimal environmental degradation to increase the size of its landmass—which is practically equivalent to that of Pasay City—and meet its requirements for additional commercial and residential space.

With its regulators strictly enforcing its environmental regulations, Singapore got the best worlds on reclamation. Our own DENR can do the same if it puts its heart and soul in the performance of its oversight tasks.

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