By Ferdinand Patinio

HALT. A reclamation project at the Pasay City area of Manila Bay, as seen from this April 24, 2023 photo, is among the suspended projects as announced by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Aug. 10. The agency is looking into the compliances under which the Environmental Compliance Certificates and area clearances were issued. (PNA photo by Avito C. Dalan)

MANILA – The Embassy of the United States in Manila has valid reasons to raise concerns about reclamation projects in Manila Bay, foremost of which is security.

Lawyer Jay Batongbacal, University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea director, said as host country, the Philippines has a responsibility to ensure the embassy’s safety.

“What probably concerns them, first, it’s a historical area and second, they will now be surrounded by people, Chinese casinos or malls, and other buildings. The area is no longer secured,” he said during the Saturday News Forum in Quezon City.

“They will probably make some adjustments. They have no choice. We can’t stop them from raising such concerns,” Batongbacal added.

In a statement sent to reporters Aug. 2, the US Embassy said it is concerned that the projects have ties to the China Communications Construction Co “which has been added to the US Department of Commerce’s Entity List for its role in helping the Chinese military construct and militarize artificial islands in the South China Sea.”

“We continue to support high quality, sustainable, and transparent investments to benefit the Filipino people and will continue to engage with the appropriate authorities on this matter,” the embassy said.

Similarly, neighboring provinces have rights to be alarmed, especially fisherfolk whose livelihood is threatened, according to Batongbacal.

“People will no longer be able to fish, obviously because the area will be reclaimed, the body of the water is being transformed into lands,” he said. “The coastal areas in Cavite that are rich in producing seafoods such as oysters, mussels, will all disappear, as these areas are being reclaimed.”

Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Maria Antonio Yulo-Loyzaga announced in a press briefing in Malacañang on Aug. 10 that 22 reclamation projects in Manila Bay are under review and temporarily suspended.

She said the DENR is currently looking into the compliances under which the Environmental Compliance Certificates and area clearances were issued for the projects.

The suspension came after President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. went to Pampanga and Bulacan provinces on Aug. 7 to assess the flooding situation. He later announced that he ordered the suspension of all reclamation projects in Manila Bay except for one, pending review. (PNA)