Reclamation offers coastal countries in various parts of the world the prospect of expanding their land area and hence create more opportunities for economic growth.
In an archipelago like the Philippines whose territory consists of more than 7,100 islands, reclamation is an attractive and convenient option for the government and the private sector to collaborate in making reclaimed land serve economic development goals.
At present, there are a number of proposed and ongoing land reclamation projects.
There were 50 reclamation projects in various stages of construction across the country as of September 2022.
Of these, 20 projects have been approved by the Philippine Reclamation Agency (PRA), while 24 are still in the application stage. The estimated total area of reclamation projects nationwide is 11,800 hectares.
The Bulacan Aerotropolis being built north of Manila by one of the country’s biggest business conglomerates is one such reclamation project.
It will reclaim land from the coast of Bulakan municipality to build a new airport, thus decongesting the old, run-down Manila International Airport.
At the same time, the modern airport can contribute immensely to over-all economic growth
It is true that reclamation has huge potential to contribute to sustainable development goals.
There are reclamation projects abroad from which the Philippines can draw valuable lessons.
The reclamation project undertaken in the port of Rotterdam, Netherlands, for instance, is considered a big success as extensive studies have shown that it led to innovative practices and improved social and environmental conditions, apart from complying with strict safety standards and producing economic and social benefits.
Reclamation projects, therefore, can yield additional land that can be tapped for residential, commercial and industrial uses.
Once completed, reclamation projects can provide additional sources of income for government in the form of taxes from enterprises and factories that choose to locate in reclaimed land.
But reclamation also has its downside. While it sounds like a good developmental idea, it may not be as sound as we might think.
Reclamation projects already approved for implementation by previous administrations appear to have proceeded without due consideration to their adverse economic, environmental and social impacts.
Reclamation projects should be part of an over-all economic development program.
They should also obtain the required environmental compliance certificates from the DENR.
Moreover, they should undertake proper consultation with the affected communities, such as fisherfolk, since this sector faces the threat of loss of livelihood once the reclamation project gets off the ground.
NGOs opposed to reclamation projects have raised other questions.
Why are reclamation projects already being awarded to proponents when the supposed masterplan that will govern them is still non-existent?
Do these projects even have feasibility studies that will justify the clearing of mangroves and coast-filling already undertaken by reclamation companies?
Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) and the People’s Network for the Integrity of Coastal Habitats and Ecosystems (People’s NICHE) are among the non-government organizations opposed to reclamation projects.
They cite the reduction of fishing grounds which can threaten food security.
Once land reclamation starts, they foresee incalculable damage to mangroves, seagrass and corals. And reclamation will also lead to the displacement of people in coastal areas.
Last April 22, 2023, on Earth Day, groups renewed their call for the government to stop reclamation and dredging projects without the required Environmental Impact Study (EIS).
They are one in saying that reclamation, dump-and-fill, dredging and seabed quarrying would lead to habitat destruction and biodiversity loss.
What they are urging the government to do now is to review all proposed and ongoing projects to determine whether they will be beneficial or harmful to the economy and the environment.
A concrete step along this direction is the recent move by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to convene an experts’ forum to review the government’s policy on reclamation and to craft recommendations on how this can be improved so that it results in sustainable development rather than cause adverse economic, environmental and social costs.
The forum seeks to foster dialogue among experts and stakeholders to generate insights on reclamation, identify entry points as well as gaps in policy, and obtain expert recommendations on what policies should be put in place at both the national and local levels to make reclamation serve development goals.
The expected output of the experts’ forum is a set of policy guidelines that will inform the review of existing reclamation laws and policies.
The DENR has pointed out that while the recently launched Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028 prioritizes economic growth and a conducive business environment to increase public-private partnerships (PPPs) in various sectors, it also seeks to protect the environment and strengthen community resilience from climate change hazards.
In the end, what matters is what President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., said in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July last year.
He emphasized: “Companies who exploit our natural resources must follow the law… there is no question that the preservation of the environment is the preservation of lives.” (Email: [email protected])