HomeCommentaryDENR clarifications needed pronto on bay landfilling, watershed quarrying

DENR clarifications needed pronto on bay landfilling, watershed quarrying

“I’m no fan of landfilling at Manila Bay,” a former Philippine Reclamation Authority bigwig confided. “But after many years of applying, studying, complying with a million reclamation requirements, all 22 projects suddenly are stopped, just like that, by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.”

He’s got a point. Why put multibillion-peso investors through the wringer, notify them to proceed, and then subject them to newer rules?

DENR presumably conducted environment-impact assessments on each of the 22 reclamations. Now Sec. Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga says there’s a need for one cumulative-impact assessment, as in how all 22 will affect the ecosystem.

Obviously, DENR bureaucrats goofed. They gave reclamation authorities piecemeal go-signals for landfilling. They ignored environmentalists’ warnings against arbitrary approvals.

Only when the U.S. Embassy complained that waters around its bayside compound were being dredged – by a China state company blacklisted by the U.S. State Department – did everyone at DENR start to look busy.

Yulo-Loyzaga must make their heads roll. More than that she must rush forming the scientists team for the cumulative-impact assessment.

Issues and risks for the scientists to determine:

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• Collapse of unstable reclamation edges due to earth tremors. Is soft soil being replaced with sand for a geotechnically stable foundation?

• Settlement, stability, and bearing capacity for the land expansion. Is sand filling layered, not rushed?

• Uneven and uncontrolled settlement during its lifetime. Are vertical drains embedded to release subsoil overpressure?

• Earthquake liquefaction due to insufficient bearing capacity. Is the sand densified by compacting to prevent collapse?

• Flooding and erosion during typhoons. Are reclamation edges protected by revetments constructed from rock armor and topped with a wave wall to minimize overtopping sea swells?

• Will there be ongoing and post-construction monitoring and soil sampling for settlement or instability?

Yulo-Loyzaga also needs to review the history of Manila Bay reclamations.

Only one of the projects, that of Pasay City Hall, was proposed as far back as 2013. Master planning and concept design were finished by 2016.

Site surveys and schematic designs followed in 2017. Pasay City’s submission of detailed engineering plans kicked off the Reclamation Authority’s review process in 2018. Project approval came in 2019, and contract signing in 2020. Construction commenced in 2021.

The 21 others rushed their papers and got approvals during the Duterte admin, 2016-2022.

Pasay City’s project manager is Royal HaskoningDHV. Investor SM Prime Holding hired the 140-year-old Dutch firm. The global engineering consultancy has 6,000 specialists of 95 nationalities operating in 25 countries.

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Has DENR shut down three rock quarries at Upper Marikina Watershed? Or was it just a press release?

A coalition of more than 80 environment, safety, and youth NGOs is asking Yulo-Loyzaga for a definitive reply. That’s because of DENR’s contradictory actions.

At a Senate environment committee hearing on Nov. 26, 2022, Yulo-Loyzaga claimed that she had canceled the quarries. That was good news for millions of residents and shopkeepers in a dozen cities below the watershed.

She repeated the claim on Mar. 13, 2023, at a counterpart committee hearing of the House of Reps. That should’ve closed the matter.

But the Upper Marikina Watershed Coalition was suspicious. Fifteen quarries, the biggest owned by an ex-DENR secretary, were still operating in adjacent Montalban, part of the mountain ecosystem. They pressed DENR for copies of the cancellations.

Three orders, all dated Dec. 19, 2022, from Usec Juan Miguel Cuna, were shown to the coalition. Supposedly the 25-year mineral production sharing agreements (MPSAs) of Quimson Limsetone, Inc., Quarry Rock Group, and Rapid City Realty Development Corp. had lapsed; thus cancelled.

Here’s the catch. There were no dates or signatures acknowledging receipt by the three quarries.

Moreover, the orders were not posted as required in the Mines and Geosciences Bureau Portal. Then the file for Calabarzon Region IV-A, which covers the Upper Marikina Watershed in Baras and Tanay towns, Rizal province, was taken down. It has not been restored to date.

On Aug. 2, 2023 the coalition wrote Yulo-Loyzaga to clarify things once and for all. MPSAs were forbidden in watersheds to begin with, the members said. They cited four laws:

• 1975 Forestry Code, P.D. 705;

• 1977 P.P. 1636 “Declaring as National Park, Wildlife Sanctuary and Game Preserve” the mountains of Rizal, Bulacan, Laguna, and Quezon — including Marikina Montalban Watersheds;

• 1992 National Integrated Protected Areas System Law; and

• 1995 Mining Act.

Yulo-Loyzaga has not responded.

Words spread during the House hearing last week on DENR’s 2024 budget: the reason why no cancellation document has been served is because of politicos’ lobby.

Will the MPSAs be renewed or re-awarded to others? If so, watershed forest denudation will go on. The 60-million-year-old limestone relics in the Masungi area will be crushed.

More floodwaters will cascade down to Marikina, San Mateo, Montalban, Cainta, Pasig, Pateros, Taguig, San Juan, and Quezon City.

Jarius Bondoc is an award-winning Filipino journalist and author based in Manila. He writes opinion pieces for The Philippine Star and Pilipino Star Ngayon and hosts a radio program on DWIZ 882 every Saturday. Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LICAS News.

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