Marcos suspends land reclamation projects

PRESIDENT Ferdinand Marcos Jr has ordered an indefinite suspension of 22 major land reclamation projects in Manila Bay to allow a study of their environmental impact and legal compliance, an official said yesterday.

Marcos’ order came after the United States expressed public concern over environmental damage from the projects and the involvement of a Chinese company which was blacklisted by Washington for its role in building militarised Chinese island bases in the South China Sea that further stoked tensions in the contested waters.

The heavily fortified US Embassy in Manila sits on the edge of the bay, which is popular for its golden sunsets but has long been notorious for pollution.

“All of these projects are suspended at this point,” Environment Secretary Antonia Yulo Loyzaga said in a televised news conference. “All are under review.”

A team of scientists, including oceanographers, geologists and climate change experts, is being formed to review ongoing and planned reclamation projects which were approved by the previous administration, she said.

Environmental groups have staged protests against the projects, mostly conducted by real estate companies seeking to build islands for upscale hotels, casinos, restaurants and entertainment centres in the bay.

With a 190km coastline, the bay straddles the densely populated capital region of metropolitan Manila and several provincial regions.

Many shantytowns, factories, businesses and residential areas have discharged their waste directly into the bay for decades, prompting the Supreme Court in 2008 to order government agencies to clean up the polluted water to make it fit for swimming.

The US Embassy said last week that it has relayed its concerns to Philippine officials “about the potential negative long-term and irreversible impacts to the environment, the resilience to natural hazards of Manila and nearby areas, and to commerce” from the reclamation.

“We are also concerned that the projects have ties to China Communications Construction Co, which has been added to the US Department of Commerce’s Entity List for its role in helping the Chinese military construct and militarise artificial islands in the South China Sea,” embassy spokesperson Kanishka Gangopadhyay said in a statement.

Chinese companies on the list are restricted from trading with any US firms without a nearly unobtainable special licence. China has protested the US sanctions as illegal.

State-owned China Communications Construction has said that one of its subsidiaries, China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd, is involved in a project that includes building three artificial islands in the bay near suburban Pasay city.

A 2016 decision by an arbitration tribunal set up in The Hague under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea invalidated China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea on historical grounds. But China did not participate in the arbitration, rejected its ruling and continues to defy it. — AP

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