Members of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) prevented some 20 fishing boats carrying 100 fisherfolks from Bulacan, Cavite and Navotas in holding a fluvial protest against reclamation in Manila Bay on November 22, in time for the World Fisheries Day 2017.

As members of Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) made their way to the Baywalk along Roxas Boulevard in Manila, around eight PCG vessels surrounded protesting fishermen and blocked them in the middle of the bay in Pasay City.

PCG pointed out that the fishermen failed to show permit to hold rally and permit to travel.

Members of Pamalakaya were also set to hold a protest rally and solidarity lunch in Roxas Boulevard where they would be welcomed by members of environmental groups, Nilad and Ban Reclamation Movement. After an hour and a half of negotiation with PCG officials and members of the Manila Police District, protesters were allowed to get near the shoreline to continue their program.

Nilad and Ban Reclamation Movement reacted to the PCG’s actions as ‘being reclamation guards’ of the government and their foreign partner firms in the planned implementation of various reclamation projects on Philippine waters. Pamalakaya, on the other hand, cried foul and slammed the “repression, not just on land, but even on water.”

Anti-fisherfolk reclamation

In the rally, Pamalakaya raised their opposition to the 42 reclamation projects covering 29,929 hectares of Manila Bay as part of the government’s National Reclamation Plan (NRP). The group called for the scrapping of these projects that they said would affect their livelihood and would displace them from their coastal communities.

The NRP was approved by the Aquino administration and continued by President Rodrigo Duterte under his Build-Build-Build program. The Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) aimed to complete 80 of the 102 NRP reclamation projects within the six-year term of the Duterte administration.

“The government is fast converting the country’s productive fishing grounds into commercial districts and high-end recreational establishments at the expense of the livelihood and community rights of millions of fisherfolk and poor families in Manila Bay,” says Fernando Hicap, Pamalakaya chairperson.

He added, “Thousands of fishing families in Metro Manila are under threat of eviction to pave way for the likes of SM Mall of Asia and Solaire Resort and Casino.”

Hicap referred to the construction of SM Mall of Asia and Central Business District in Roxas Boulevard on 2004 that displaced more than 30,000 fisherfolk and urban poor settlers.

Pamalakaya also refutes the legality of reclamation projects, saying it violates Section 27 of the Water Code of the Philippines which “prohibits construction on navigable or floatable waterways.” They said that such provision makes the PRA and all of its reclamation projects illegal.

Photo by Kathy Yamzon
Photo by Kathy Yamzon

Reclamation in the Metro

The Ban Reclamation Movement also said that across the country, 102 reclamation projects have been approved by the PRA since 2011 covering 38,372 hectares of water. They said that most of the reclamation projects are concentrated in different parts of Metro Manila.

“If the reclamation plan will be implemented, an estimated 103,000 families in the City of Manila will be washed out. Twenty-thousand poor families in 8 barangays will be affected by the reclamation in Muntinlupa. In Navotas, 20,000 poor families in 4 barangays can be evicted from their homes due to reclamation. In Parañaque, 21,000 families and 6,000 families in Las Piñas,” says Kevin Paul Aguayon, Nilad spokesperson.

Aguayon said that these families would be victims of the approved reclamation projects including the Manila Harbour Center (50 hectares), Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat Ecotourism Area (1,600 hectares), Las Piñas-Bacoor Road Widening Project (1,435 hectares), Horizon Manila Project (419 hectares), Navotas Boulevard Business Park (650 hectares) among others.

Nilad and Ban Reclamation Movement also slammed the adverse effects of the Fisheries Code of 1998 to the livelihood of poor fishermen. They said that this heavy fine and strict in the amended fisheries law would push to fishing sector into deep poverty.

“Small-fishers today endure the heavy taxation and registration fees under the Boat Registration and Fish Registration programs where they are obliged to enlist their fishing gears and even themselves to the local government only to be considered by the fisheries agency as legal fisherfolks,” said Aguayon.

He added, “We call on the repeal of the said law and come up with a new and genuine fisheries reform law that will address their plight. We also called on the Duterte government to genuinely rehabilitate our marine resources and the environment that will offer a comprehensive plan to rehabilitate Manila Bay.”

“It is not too late to rehabilitate and bring back the natural ecosystem of Manila Bay. Instead of spending billions on floating commercial and business districts, why not revive and develop the destroyed mangroves and corals of Manila Bay to let marine species thrive,” ended Hicap.

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