YES, this is what Pasay City-SM reclamation deal actually boils down to once the project is approved by the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA). It will resurrect the notorious PEA-Amari deal. Only this time, it is the Pasay City government that is the major player and main proponent instead of the PRA.
Portrayed as a public-private partnership (PPP) project of the Pasay City local government, the deal calls for SM to undertake and finance the reclamation of 360 hectares of Manila Bay and, in exchange, the mall and property giant will get 49 percent or 176.4 hectares of the reclaimed land, while Pasay City will end up with the remaining 51 percent or 183.6 hectares.
Last week, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) conducted the (first and only?) public hearing on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report of the Pasay City-SM reclamation project—the first indispensable step in the approvals process.
With that, the ball is now in the court of incoming DENR Secretary Gina Lopez, so to speak.
Not a few thinking Filipinos are hoping that Lopez, a staunch anti-mining advocate and a well-known environmentalist, can finally put an end to what many see as the continuing destruction of Manila Bay for profit’s sake.
We got hold of a copy of the Executive Summary of the EIA report and as we pored over it, it became obvious that the only real beneficiaries of the reclamation project are the officials of the Pasay City government and mall and property giant SM. That only a privileged few should profit from a natural resource owned by all Filipinos definitely leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
Perhaps what’s more amusing about the report are the justifications given by Pasay City for undertaking the reclamation project. Here are some of them:
“[The project will] help in decongesting Metro Manila and the City of Pasay by providing alternative site for future development … instead of such developments being located in the already-crowded inland.”
“The expanded reclaimed areas will provide the sufficient critical mass and synergy to enable Pasay City to compete with and surpass other business districts existing within Metro Manila.”
“The benefits that shall accrue to the to the City of Pasay will be substantial and these will be in the form of additional income and revenues generated from additional real estate taxes, permits and licenses and business taxes …”
And perhaps even more tellingly, the EIA report admits that “(w)hen completed, the Proposed Pasay Reclamation Project will be linked up with, and will serve as an extension of the existing Mall of Asia Complex located just across the Libertad Channel.” In short, the Pasay City-SM reclamation project is really just a (very profitable) land deal, after all.
The way a lot of folks see it, it is a cheap way for SM to acquire property and expand its MOA complex in the booming Bay City area where land prices, brokers say, are expected to hit P500,000 per square meter or more, by the time the seven-year reclamation project is completed. That easily translates to an P880-billion windfall profit for SM.
Recently, an anti-reclamation alliance composed of fisher-folk groups such as the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), Koalisyon Kontra Kumbersyon ng Manila Bay (KKK-Manila Bay), Sagip Manila Bay Movement (SMBM), Save Freedom Island Movement (SFIM) and Anakpawis partylist, have called for a stop to the Pasay City-SM deal, saying that “too many malls have been built to displace [fisher folks].”
“The Henry Sy empire should refrain from establishing a republic of reclaimed areas in Manila Bay. Manila Bay is not for sale and it is owned by the Filipino people,” the groups said.
Salvador France, vice chair of Pamalakaya, claims the P54-billion land reclamation project was approved because of the juicy commissions the approving authority would get from the deal, aside from the promise of a lion’s share for the higher-ups. “Multiple crimes of plunder and first-rate felony of corruption are written all over this P54-billion reclamation project at the expense of people’s livelihood and environment,” France added.
Aside from the Pasay reclamation project, SM was awarded another 300-hectare reclamation deal in Manila Bay by the adjacent city of Parañaque. The mall and property bigwig previously announced its plan to merge the Pasay and Parañaque reclamation projects in a contiguous 600-hectare area.
Indeed, we find ironic that in the midst of the government’s campaign for earthquake readiness (MMDA officials called last week’s quake drill a “resounding success”), the PNoy government has not put the brakes on the reclamation of Manila Bay, especially since reclaimed foreshore lands are most vulnerable to natural hazards like storm surges, land subsidence, and destructive ground shaking and liquefaction during earthquakes, according to internationally renowned Filipino geologist Kevin Rodolfo.
Rodolfo says reclaiming new land when Metro Manila is overdue for a magnitude 7.2 earthquake is “simply insane.”
But those natural hazards are a minor detail to Pasay City and SM. The potential “benefits” of the reclamation deal are obviously too tempting to pass up. Besides, if anything bad happens during an earthquake, they can always avoid liability by blaming it on a fortuitous (unforeseen) event.
No wonder many expats in the country say we have the smartest bureaucrats in the world.