Let DENR do its work | Inquirer Opinion

Let DENR do its work

/ 04:40 AM November 27, 2023

When President Marcos suspended all Manila Bay reclamation projects last August pending a thorough government review, environmentalists and lawmakers welcomed it as a victory against the ecological destruction of the area. However, some proponents have complained that rules are being changed midstream and thus discouraging investors, or that their projects should proceed for having undergone evaluation and obtaining approval during the previous administrations. Others have criticized the lack of a timeline on how long the suspension would remain.

Last week, Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo Loyzaga again emphasized the need to draw up a “sound national policy on reclamation” that would balance the need to protect the environment and still encourage investments. During a conference organized by Stratbase ADR Institute, she made it clear: “We’re looking at reclamation as something that has to do with both urban and regional planning, but at the end of the day this has to do with the whole sustainable use of resources that the country needs in order to maintain the trajectory toward development.”

Loyzaga reiterated that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is undertaking two parallel processes on the issue of reclamation: the review of the environmental and area compliance of the projects approved in the past, and the cumulative impact assessment to be made by different scientists and experts. “The position of the DENR is [that] … any type of project will need to meet some very strict environmental rules and regulations,” she pointed out.


The DENR has tapped a team of scientists to look into the environmental repercussions of the 22 reclamation projects covered by the presidential suspension. The University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP MSI), Loyzaga said during a Senate hearing in September, will be part of a core team that will include climate scientist Dr. Faye Cruz of the Manila Observatory; Dr. Fabian Dayrit, an expert on plastics and plastic pollution; and Dr. Tess Perez of the Ateneo environmental science department, who will focus on the water quality of “esteros” and rivers leading to Manila Bay.


In the team’s assessment, UP MSI executive director Dr. Laura David said they will consider how reclamation projects will affect the marine ecosystem in Manila Bay and she provided a timeline for this task. According to David, the scientists plan to have a “substantial assessment” of the reclamation projects in six months, and then complete the evaluation in another six months. This timeline is fair considering that, as the DENR chief had earlier pointed out, the process will not be simple as it involves many disciplines, among them physical science, oceanography, geology, and the social field.

Yet while the DENR is still undertaking the review and crafting a national policy, some proponents are reportedly continuing reclamation activities in violation of the President’s directive. It is best for everyone to just wait for the results of the cumulative impact assessment and let the DENR do its work. It does not matter if the approved reclamation projects cover less than five percent of Manila Bay—an argument often raised by their proponents—because there is no denying the critical need to balance economic development with environmental protection. UP MSI’s David, citing Supertyphoon “Yolanda” that devastated Tacloban City in 2013, had stressed how a huge mangrove plantation protected the neighboring town of Palompon from the impact of the calamity. “We are not only talking about food [security] when it comes to what can be affected by reclamation, it is people’s lives themselves,” David pointed out.

Amid pressure from owners of reclamation projects that have already been approved, the government should still subject these to rigorous evaluation in line with the ongoing DENR assessment. It would be best to scuttle all the pending applications until the national policy had been laid down.

Lawmakers can help in this by reviving House Bill No. 9067, filed in 2019 by the Makabayan bloc to declare the bay a reclamation-free zone. Malacañang, for its part, can address what possibly is the root cause of this problem by amending Executive Order No. 74, signed by former president Rodrigo Duterte on Feb. 1, 2019, delegating the authority to approve reclamation projects to the PRA and placing the agency under the Office of the President, instead of the DENR, purportedly due to the ongoing cleanup of the polluted Manila Bay.

The previous administration promised to relocate 300,000 informal settler families living along the coastline of Manila Bay and in nearby areas to rehabilitate and clean up esteros and the water body’s coastline. Yet no master plan was given, thus nothing much was done in this regard, except perhaps for the controversial “white sand” beach that environmentalists argue had done more harm than good.

The government, through an interagency body, can once and for all craft a comprehensive and doable master plan for Manila Bay to help bring it back to its glorious days.

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TAGS: Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Editorial

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