The curious case of land reclamation
By Sara Mae D. Mawis
Philippine Daily Inquirer
December 16, 2017 at 4:25 am

White Christmas lights. Colorful clothes. Luxurious bags and shoes. Aromatic food from all cultures. A celebration of diversity and opulence. Singapore.

My office went on a vacation in Singapore. My feet felt dead as we endlessly walked, shopped, and window-shopped. But my eyes never tired and continued to feast on this country’s busy, bright, and rich streets.

“Singapore has been incredibly well-managed,” said philanthropist and investor Nicolas Berggruen. “It was created out of the swamp, with a strong emotional idea: a safe place for mostly Chinese, but accepting other cultures and other races.”

According to the Singapore-based publication The Straits Times, the economy of Singapore has expanded by 4.6 percent in the third quarter of this year, the highest growth since 2014. It was driven by, among others, manufacturing, electronics, services, and wholesale and retail trade and transportation and storage industries.

Said Lisa Maria Segarra of multinational business magazine Fortune: “Singapore remains one of the world’s richest countries.”

Unsurprisingly, Singapore became the inspiration for Solar City, a reclamation project in Manila Bay. Channel News Asia reported that the Solar City “promises to combine residential, tourism and business infrastructure, notably including an international cruise ship terminal, vast green space and a monorail transport system designed to improve interconnectivity with the rest of the city.”

Under Presidential Decree No. 1084, land, including foreshore and submerged areas, may be the subject of a reclamation project. Reclamation includes dredging, filling, or other means, and acquiring reclaimed land.

In Republic v. City of Parañaque, the Supreme Court held that reclaimed lands are reserved lands for public use. Ownership of reclaimed lands remains with the State unless withdrawn by law or presidential proclamation from public use.

The Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA), then known as the Public Estates Authority, was created to administer the coordinated, economical, and efficient reclamation of lands.

According to Presidential Decree No. 1084, PRA shall have the attribute of perpetual succession and shall possess the powers of a corporation, to be exercised in conformity with the provisions of said law.

In her article entitled “PRA to Pursue 80 Reclamation Projects, Claims Duterte All-Out Support,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Kristine Felisse Mangunay reported that the PRA is set to implement more than 80 reclamation projects, including the Solar City, which is supported by President Rodrigo Duterte.

“Thousands of Filipinos have benefited from completed reclamation projects that include the Cultural Center of the Philippines, [Philippine International Convention Center], the financial center area… Mall of Asia Complex, CAVITEx, the South Road Project in Cebu and numerous ports and causeways nationwide,” said the PRA in the article entitled “PRA Response to the Article ‘Bay Reclamation: A Treasure Trove.’”

Land reclamation, however, faces strong opposition for its adverse environmental effects.

“At first glance, development in Manila Bay looks like a lucrative business venture,” Sen. Cynthia Villar said in a statement. “But I appeal to companies interested in these reclamation projects to also consider the effects on the residents and fishermen depending on the bay for livelihood.”

According to Villar, the reclamation of Manila Bay will destroy the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Eco-Tourism Area, which is classified as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

Meanwhile, in Rappler’s article entitled “Abolish the PH Reclamation Authority,” scientist Dr. Giovanni Tapang said that the reclamation of more than 38,000 hectares in National Reclamation Plan will translate to a loss of the same amount of sea grass, the spawning ground, and habitat of aquatic life, leading to an annual loss of 4.7 billion invertebrates and 3.78 trillion fish.

PRA argued, however, that these negative consequences were not established as being a direct consequence of the country’s reclamation projects.

“It is the waterfront that has attracted settlements and economic activity for generations all over the world,” the PRA explained in its article.

“Most developed countries have responsibly utilized their waterfronts for coastal development while at the same time protecting the environment and welfare of their people,” it said.

“In light of recent climate change phenomena, we should again look at the actions taken by other countries which have embarked on reclamation projects as a permanent and structurally sound solution to protect their coastlines.”

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