We are alarmed by the recent statements of President Rodrigo Duterte, that he is willing to sell the coastal area along Roxas Boulevard for land reclamation, as well as other government patrimonial assets, to augment the government’s alleged lack of funds for COVID-19 response.

There is no need for the Duterte administration to resort to an ecologically destructive economic activity to generate resources for COVID-19 aid. Many organizations and concerned citizens have already pointed out that Duterte has roughly P3 trillion at his disposal from various sources. (See Table 1)

As per Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (RA. 11469) emergency powers can rechannel budgets from different appropriations. President Duterte could realign other fund sources like foreign debt servicing and military expenditures. Economic think-tank IBON Foundation has also recommended  looking into solidarity financing, offering special COVID-19 bonds to large corporations and financial institutions, as well implement new progressive taxes to those who can afford it. 

We in the People’s NICHE reiterate that reclamation in Manila Bay is not only unnecessary to augment COVID response, but will further worsen the public health crisis Manila Bay communities are already facing.

Fisherfolk communities in Manila Bay fear that reclamation will permanently displace them from their livelihood. They have yet to receive sufficient food aid and economic relief for almost a month now and fear they will have no fisheries to subsist on after the extended lockdown is lifted should reclamation push through.

Coastal communities are also wary of flooding risks that reclamation will cause. Flooding can potentially increase the transmission of communicable diseases. The destruction of coastal biodiversity also contributes to the increasing spillover of emerging infectious diseases like COVID from intact ecosystems into human settlements.

Decreasing fish catch in the bay over the years has been observed as the mangrove areas in Manila Bay have decreased. Scientists have said that there are only at least 734 hectares of them left, down from 50,000 hectares from the last century.

Reclamation projects threaten to disturb the natural flow of fish eggs and larvae in the bay, in turn affecting our fish supply. There are over 50 species of fish living in Manila Bay, including sardine species such as ‘tamban’ (Sardinella gibbosa or Goldstripe sardinella), ‘tunsoy,’ (Sardinella fimbriata or Fringescale sardinella), and ‘alumahan’ (Rastrelliger kanagurta or Indian mackerel), which are sold in markets as food.

Reclamation projects will aggravate the threats already facing our fish supply, such as plastic pollution and chemical runoffs. Instead of rehabilitating Manila Bay, opening up Manila Bay for reclamation would lead to irreversible damage to our environment.

In February, Pres. Duterte himself said that he would reject massive Manila Bay reclamation projects by private firms, saying “It will choke Manila” and that “the entire Manila City would be environmentally at peril.”

We urge the Duterte administration to stop flip-flopping on the issue and come out with a clear-cut policy pronouncement on prohibiting reclamation in Manila Bay. The national government should explain why it does not elect to utilize resources on standby during this desperate emergency.

What the people need during this public health crisis are ample health services and economic relief, not another disaster waiting to happen.#

People’s NICHE Conveners

LEON DULCENational CoordinatorKalikasan People’s Network for the EnvironmentATTY. GLORIA RAMOSVice PresidentOceana Philippines
LIA ALONZOExecutive DirectorCenter for Environmental Concerns – PhilippinesATTY. ROSE-LIZA EISMA OSORIOManaging TrusteePhilippine Earth Justice Center 
JERWIN BAUREChairpersonAGHAM – Advocates of Science and Technology for the People – Diliman ANYA MENDOZAExecutive DirectorClimate Change Network for Community-based Initiatives
DR. JEAN LINDOCo-ChairpersonPanalipdan! Mindanao 

Table 1. Possible Budget Sources

Bayanihan emergency fundP 275 billion
Unreleased appropriations from 2019 and 2020 budgetsP190 billion
Road users’ taxP12 billion 
Remittances from DOTr attached agencies (PPA, MIAA, CAAP, CPA)P10.5 billion
Collected dividends from GOCCsP78.6 billion
Unutilized DoE fundsP12.34 billion
Social welfare and pensions funds (4Ps, Quick Response Funds, Social Pension fund)P154.1 billion
Presidential Pork (Special Purpose Fund)P684.2 billion
Confidential and intelligence fundsP9.6 billion
Public infrastructure programP989 billion
Principal amortizationP582 billion
TOTALP2,998.34 billion

Sources:
1.    https://www.ibon.org/theres-funding-to-respond-to-covid-19-the-problem-is-at-the-top/
2.    https://www.bulatlat.com/2020/04/07/bayan-muna-debunks-dutertes-lack-of-budget-for-covid-19-rhetoric/
3.    gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/681490/abolish-not-only-road-board-but-also-road-users-tax-colmenares-urges-congress/story/
4.    https://www.bworldonline.com/budget-2020-the-national-pork/
5.    https://www.ibon.org/theres–to-respond-to-covid-19-the-problem-is-at-the-top/