Paranaque residents, parishioners and other concerned groups observed Viernes Dolores last March 22 with a Kalbaryo (Way of the Cross) processional protest, with prayers and performances of environmental poetry and music in opposition to plans of reclaiming environmentally-critical foreshore areas in Manila Bay into a sprawling business complex.
Prior to this, a silent human chain was organized by 3,000 people across Roxas Boulevard to witness the beautiful sunset that made the bay an iconic landmark – and as a symbol of the broad unity of people opposed to the Manila Solar City reclamation project. Regular coastal cleanups have also been done in Freedom Island, the 175-hectare bird sanctuary smack in the middle of the project area, in an effort to significantly remove the clutter from one of the Metro’s last green areas.
The aesthetic value alone of Manila Bay could inspire such creative gestures of stewardship over Manila Bay. But its beauty goes beyond the picturesque views and bird watching hotspots: advocates have long explained the significant role of the Manila Bay ecosystem to lives in the area connected all the way up to the global big picture.
Just days ago, the Las Pinas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (LPPCHEA) where the country’s only urban bird sanctuary can be found became the sixth site in the Philippines to join the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, signifying its global significance to biodiversity. Indeed, LPPCHEA is home to at least 5,000 migratory and resident birds on a given day, including 47 rare species such as the Chinese Egret and the Philippine Duck.
Birds aren’t just eye candy for nature lovers. According to the Iowa University’s Nature Mapping Program, these animals are important links in the food chains and webs of the ecosystems they traverse. They are agents of life, dispersing seeds, pollens and other bio-mass that help propagate plants and other organisms vital to a healthy environment. They also serve as natural pest controls, regulating insect populations by feeding on them.
Birds are also important biological indicators, playing a major role in analyzing and creating awareness about the lethal qualities of DDT and other pesticides in “Silent Spring”, the famed book that started the world-wide environmental movement written by biologist Rachel Carson. Indeed, to see LPPCHEA’s bird population to have dwindled to its current state from a healthy average of around 28,000 back in the 70s is indicative of the level of impact so-called development projects in the capital have on our quality of life.
While infamous for its scores of floating garbage and bouts of red tide and fish kills, large parts of Manila Bay are still teeming with sea life. Home to diverse marine ecosystems of coral reefs and sea grasses, it remains as one of the most important suppliers of fisheries in the country. Just last year, a butanding (Whale Shark) was sighted in Manila Bay indicating the possibility of more favorable feeding conditions, such as a spurt in alamang (krill) and dilis (anchovy) populations. Marine scientists pointed out that butanding feeding visits in Manila Bay were more common back then.
Any news of an increasingly productive Manila Bay is definitely welcome news. Fisheries accounts for 80 percent of the Filipino’s average animal protein intake and, more importantly, the livelihood of one out of ten Filipinos. According to the environment group Kalikasan, Manila Bay plays a crucial role as a link in various marine ecosystems (including the LPPCHEA bird sanctuary) that sustain fisheries production in the country. That fisherfolk have reported a drop in fish catch from a high average of 15 kilos to a measly 1 to 3 kilos a day, and largely due to reclamation activity, is reason enough to cheer for a solitary butanding sighting.
The real beauty of Manila Bay lies in the unseen: despite the pollution and abuse from development aggression, it remains a highly important source of life interconnected to various ecosystems across the country.
In the People’s Resolution on Reclamation formulated by about 200 fisherfolk leaders, experts, lawyers and environmental advocates, they cited the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) to have called land reclamation as one of the most irreversible forms of environmental degradation. With this as context, they pointed out that 38,272 hectares or one-tenth of our country’s coastal and marine habitats will be covered by various reclamation projects under the National Reclamation Plan. 70 percent or a third of these will be done solely in Manila Bay.
That unique and romantic sunset view that cannot be seen in any other country isn’t the only poignancy that is threatened to be lost if these reclamation projects push through. I can think of a few more proudly Pinoy experiences that can possibly be affected:
- Cebu’s famous seafood feast Sutukil (a portmanteau of Visayan words Sugba or grilling, Tula or stewing, and Kinilaw or ceviche) I was lucky enough to experience during a workshop in Cebu may remain a once in a lifetime experience if the seafood prices rise further due to depletion, something the Cordova Reclamation Project will surely aggravate if it pushes through.
- We have our own seafood fare in Metro Manila called the Dampa seafood markets and restaurants, where you can buy the freshest catch of the day from fishing villages and have them cooked the way you want it. The abundance of these Dampa markets are likewise threatened.
- LPPCHEA’s bird sanctuary has the potential of becoming an international bird watching attraction. The 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation in the United States revealed how 71.8 million Americans took up bird watching as a hobby in 2011. This is in US alone. Imagine bringing that traffic into the Philippines. We’re better off developing ecotourism facilities than reclamation projects.
Beyond creature comforts, we must consider above all the welfare and dignity of our fisherfolks, inextricably linked to the need for a healthy coastal and marine ecosystem. UN FAO considers them to be among the poorest of the poor in the Philippines. It is their development that we must put into foremost consideration. After all, isn’t human dignity the most beautiful thing to witness anywhere in the world? #
Leon Dulce is the campaign coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and a grassroots new media trainer for the Computer Professionals’ Union. He casually blogs and tweets in his spare time. Originally published in the OY! Project.