I mentioned last week that reclaimed lands belong to the State. However, PRA Board member Reynaldo Robles clarified in response to the opposition in the Manila Bay reclamation projects, that “the PRA is not the main driver of reclamation projects in the country. It’s the LGUs which express their intent to reclaim and enter into agreements with private entities on their own. When someone who wants to reclaim a certain area approaches us, we aren’t able to determine if it is feasible to reclaim in that area. We only made a depth study to find out if there is potential.”

In the case of Bacolod, it is not the city government that intends to have the shoreline of the city reclaimed but a private corporation (Bredco) with the city only expressing no objection. The puzzle here is that there is no known study by Bredco submitted to the city to which the city posed no objection. It seems then that at this time there is nothing substantial about this project except that the city does not object if Bredco wanted to reclaim. The advantage to Bredco is that it is the first proponent, a bar to others.

Unusual as the situation might be the reclamation project is not really on tract as a fait accompli.

In an interview last month by Rappler, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said that their “decision to approve any reclamation project in Manila Bay will depend on ‘science-based studies’”. This requirement I presume holds true in all reclamation projects in the country because of its impact on the environment.

He added that “our agency is not a trigger-happy approval agency. A lot of these projects were approved in the past. In our administration, the only project given a notice to proceed was a two-hectare project in Caticlan. That’s a port development project to bring in tourists for Boracay. We were very diligent in making sure they had comprehensive study.”

He is right. The case of Bredco is a classic example of corruption within the DENR where department personnel would issue a Cease and Desist Order for violations but did not enforce the order. When enforced, the order is lifted after a “visit”. Then another CDO was issued and took the same route. Want to bet what happened? There was a reshuffling but then the new ones were no better than the personnel they relieved.

If Cimatu, a PMA graduate, adheres to the officer’s Honor Code, the laws and regulations on reclamation might be strictly enforced for the benefit of the environment DENR is mandated to protect.

The environmentalists opposing more reclamation projects along Manila Bay argued that these projects will “aggravate flood problems of the National Capital Region.”

“Reclaimed land,” they say, “blocks the normal exit points of water during rains. It is also usually higher than existing land (which in Metro Manila is already sinking due to land subsidence) forming a bowl where rain water will gather.”

Note the statement that reclaimed is “usually higher than existing land.” I recall that one requirement for reclamation project is that the new land should be one meter higher than the adjacent street level.

I had raised this issue with the DENR and the Bacolod City Engineer’s Office but then the majority owners of the Bredco reclamation project were the close relatives and cronies of President Ferdinand Marcos and the country was under martial law. Thus Bredco is what it is today – lower than San Juan Street by over one meter and now forms as the water dumping basin of Bacolod.

Since it is on a lower level, Bredco should not be blocking upland water. Still it causes flood in Bacolod because instead of allowing the free flow of water through the natural drainage system – esteros, rivers and canals – Bredco closed the outlet of Mambulok Creek to construct a solid land mass. The original creek would have cut across Bredco for the unobstructed flow to Guimaras Strait.

So now, water passing through Mambulok Creek had to turn north and travel an additional length of about one kilometer before spilling out to the sea. If the flood waters come during high tide, the water level of the creek in fact rises and slows down the water from upstream. Illegal structures, including tons of garbage, also restrict passage.

We’ll continue next week.