“WHY the apparent rush to proceed with the project at this time when the priority should be to stop the spread of Covid-19 infection and help the people recover from the socio-economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic? Toledo City is home to poor fisherfolks dependent on the Tañon Strait for their food and livelihood. Ironically, the local government seemed to be preoccupied with an ecologically destructive project that will put the health and well-being of their poor coastal communities in jeopardy.”
This was the statement of international non-government organization Oceana on the reported go-signal by Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu for the Toledo City local government to proceed with the reclamation project.
“The dumping and filling of the coast of Toledo City should not be allowed because of the huge environmental impact it will cause apart from displacing artisanal fisherfolk. The project will destroy the protected seascape of Tañon Strait that is an important migration corridor and habitat for marine mammals, with at least 14 species found in its waters. This will also endanger the livelihood of small artisanal fisherfolks dependent on the rich fisheries resources of this narrow body of water between Negros and Cebu for their livelihood,” said Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Oceana vice president.
Oceana and several non-government organizations opposed a planned reclamation project of the past administration in Toledo City. Tañon Strait has a rich marine biodiversity that harbors some 70-100 species of fish, 20 species of crustaceans, 26 species of mangroves, and 18,830 hectares of coral reefs.
The ocean protection group added that the reclamation is inconsistent with the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape approved management plan.
Section 20 of the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 2018 Enipas, Republic Act (RA) 11038, requires that, "(o) Constructing, erecting, or maintaining any kind of structure, fence or enclosure, conducting any business enterprise within the protected area without prior clearance from the Protected Area Management Bureau (PAMB) and permit from the DENR, or conducting these activities in a manner that is inconsistent with the management plan duly approved by the PAMB.”
“This dump and fill project in Toledo is required to go through a rigid process under the Environmental Impact Assessment System Act, the Fisheries Code as amended and several conservation laws, apart from the Enipas Act. Under the Local Government Code, for any substantial alteration in the territorial boundaries of the LGUs, it is required to have a national law and a plebiscite for such an undertaking. Will the local government comply with the law?” said Ramos.
Ramos added that apart from a comprehensive Environmental Impact Study and participatory process, an Environmental Compliance Certificate, an area clearance, and the authority to reclaim from the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) are required in addition to the PAMB approval.
Executive Order 74 signed by President Duterte mandates cumulative impact assessment and hydrodynamic modeling, among other requirements.
Likewise, the Climate Change Act requires that local governments and all government agencies integrate climate impacts in all its policies and programs.
According to Oceana, a project that will destroy fishing grounds and marine habitats and displace fisherfolk cannot provide food security and resiliency that should be a priority amid the pandemic and climate crisis that the Filipino people face.
Toledo City is host to carbon-emitting coal fired power plants which can impact the health of the people and the waterways including Tañon Strait.
Way back in 2015, Oceana sent a letter interrogatories to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), National Economic Development Authority (Neda), Department of Justice (DOJ), and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) on the mandates of Toledo City and government agencies to protect the environment under various environmental laws.
Together with partners from the civil society sector and government, it conducted underwater assessment in the proposed area targeted for reclamation and found rare species of sea grass and marine creatures.
The PRA declared then that their office has not received any application to reclaim nor an approval of the said project. The project did not push through.
Oceana is an international advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. Since 2014, it has been working closely with national and local government agencies, civil society, fisherfolk and other stakeholders to restore the abundance of Philippine fisheries and marine resources. (PR)