WITH the number of reclamation projects in Manila Bay springing up like mushrooms, we might as well stop calling it a “bay” and instead rename the site of the historic Spanish-American War naval battle as the “Manila River” because that’s exactly what it will become if some Metro Manila cities and their partner-developers have their way.
Of course, all these would not be possible if the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) had not greenlighted these reclamation projects.
Many environmentalist and urban planners are questioning the motives behind the rash of reclamation projects in Manila Bay, and rightly so. Reclaimed lands are property of public dominion or landthat cannot be sold because it legally (and literally) belongs to all Filipinos. Moreover, the objective of any reclamation project undertaken by the national (or local) government is to develop the national wealth, with emphasis on “national.” This means it should benefit the many, not a few.
But judging by the track record of the PRA’s reclamation projects since the time of President Corazon Aquino, it is almost a foregone conclusion that it will only be a few privileged and well-connected businessmen—and their political patrons—who will end up getting the lion’s share of the “national wealth.”
Let’s examine PRA’s reclamation project in Manila Bay, known as the “Bay City Reclamation Project (formerly Boulevard 2000),” which is located in the cities of Pasay and Parañaque. Based on the PRA’s own website, its Bay City reclamation project ended up mostly in the hands of a few private companies.
A majority of Bay City’s Central Business Park 1-A, covering around 200 hectares, are now owned by the SM Group and the Metrobank group of companies. This area is where the SM Mall of Asia, the MOA arena, Blue Wave, and the Manila Tytana Colleges now stand.
So, what’s left of the “national wealth” for Filipinos? According to the same PRA website, there is “an esplanade adjacent to SM by the Bay” that “is the new preferred recreation area for the public where people can freely access a view of the sea and of the famous Manila Bay sunset.” Susmariosep!! By the way, this so-called esplanade is at present no more than a narrow strip of land surrounded by food stalls, restaurants, and a fair ground, also being leased out by SM.
Meanwhile, Central Business Park I—B&C of the Bay City reclamation project, covering 210 hectares of reclaimed land, is jointly owned by R-1 consortium led by the Wenceslao group, and hosts Solaire, Aseana City and the Pagcor Entertainment City.
The 43-hectare Central Business Park 2 is now entirely owned by Manila Bay Development Corp., and is home to the Uniwide Coastal Mall while the remaining 173 hectares is in the hands of Asia World’s Tan Yu family which developed the area into a gated residential community known as the Marina Bay Residences.
Nowadays, it is Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada who is leading the reclamation blitzkrieg of Manila Bay. Estrada has signed off on at least five reclamation projects, the latest being the Manila Waterfront City project of the Gatchalian family’s Waterfront Manila Premier Development Inc., which plans to turn a 318-hectare reclaimed area of Manila Bay into a multibillion-peso mixed-use real estate development.
The other four Manila Bay reclamation projects approved by Estrada are the 419-hectare commercial district project of J-Bros Construction Corp.; UAA Kinming Group Development Corp.’s New Manila Bay International Community, which involves the reclamation of some 407-hectares; Manila Goldcoast Development Corp.’s Solar City urban center, which will reclaim 148 hectares of Manila Bay; and the P7.4-billion expansion of the Manila Harbor Center in Tondo, covering another 50 hectares.
On the southern part of Manila, there is the Pasay City government tie-up with the SM group to reclaim 360 hectares adjoining the SM MOA area. This is on top of the SM group’s deal with Parañaque City to reclaim another 300-hectare portion of the Manila Bay.
But it doesn’t stop there. The Las Piñas-Parañaque Coastal Bay reclamation project also plans to convert a big chunk of Manila Bay into a government center, residential, industrial, educational and commercial zone, with Las Piñas aiming to reclaim 431 hectares, and Parañaque, some 203 hectares.
In all these reclamation projects, the local governments of Manila, Pasay, Parañaque and Las Piñas are the lead proponents, with their private company-partners financing the venture in exchange for a share of the reclaimed land. This is obviously being done to circumvent the Supreme Court ruling that prohibits the sale of reclaimed lands or lands of public domain to private entities.
These joint venture reclamation schemes with LGUs, however, are of doubtful legal validity. As the Supreme Court said in the landmark PEA-Amari case, “under either the BOT Law or the Local Government Code, the contractor or developer, if a corporate entity, can only be paid with leaseholds on portions of the reclaimed land…This is the only way these provisions of the BOT Law and the Local Government Code can avoid a direct collision with Section 3, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution.”
It is good that environmentalists have found an ally in Sen. Cynthia Villar, who warned that implementing more reclamation projects in Manila Bay will adversely affect communities as well as fishermen who depend on the bay for their livelihood.
The feisty and hardworking senator has been leading the fight to protect and conserve the last remaining coastal wetlands in Metro Manila—the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Eco-Tourism Area. It is a crucial ecosystem that is home to three endangered bird species: the Philippine duck, the Chinese egret and the black-winged stilt.
Villar has appealed to companies proposing to reclaim vast areas of Manila Bay to look at the environmental impact of their projects, not at the profit or revenues they will make. I make the same appeal to the city mayors of Manila, Pasay, Las Piñas and Parañaque.
As for the newly appointed chairman of PRA, lawyer Alberto Agra, he ought to leave a legacy that will benefit the Filipino masses rather than some select private developers. For starters, he can donate a portion of PRA’s reclaimed properties to frontline government agencies so they can build new facilities to accommodate the general public.
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), for instance, is in dire need of a new facility to house its welfare assistance offices, training centers, and 24-hour hostel and kitchen to service the growing number of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families.
Agra can also earmark a part of PRA’s Manila Bay properties for a one-stop-shop government center for clearances and permits and documents, such as National Statistics Office (NSO) certificates, NBI clearances, PNP clearances, PRC certificates, DepEd or CHED diplomas and the like.
These facilities will definitely contribute more to the national wealth—and actually benefit more Filipinos—than the free view of the sea and the Manila Bay sunset that PRA’s reclamation projects have so far accorded the public.