DUMAGUETE CITY – More people are opposing the planned massive reclamation project fronting the coastline here that is set to be implemented through a joint venture agreement between the city government and a Quezon City-based investor.

In an interview Monday afternoon, Aidalyn Arabe, one of the spokespersons of the environmental group Kahugpungan para sa Kinabuhi ug Kinaiyahan, Inc. (Kinaiyahan), said they have delivered a letter of objection to the office of Mayor Felipe Antonio Remollo seeking the stoppage of the signing of the joint venture agreement with EM Cuerpo, Inc.

She said this is just the first of a series of signature campaigns that Kinaiyahan and other groups have initiated to express their opposition to the planned reclamation project that would cover 174 hectares of reclaimed land.

The project, which would be at no cost to the city government, is estimated to be worth PHP23.35 billion. Its proponents aim to build an “off-shore” island from Barangay Tinago to Barangay Banilad in the south and from Barangay Looc to Barangay Bantayan in the north.

“We are now awaiting word from city hall if the signing of the joint venture agreement originally scheduled today had pushed through, but we have not heard from anyone about it yet,” Arabe said. “Our initial move is to ask the mayor to put on hold the signing of the agreement while issues and concerns are being tackled, most especially the holding of public consultations.”

The opposing groups are also asking that the city council rescind the approval it gave last Wednesday for the mayor to enter into such an agreement with the investor, she added.

They questioned the move of the local legislators, saying it was done “hastily”, suggesting that it was because of the coming elections.

On Sunday, Kinaiyahan and the Friends of the Environment of Negros Oriental (FENOR), organized a signature campaign against the reclamation project at the Rizal Boulevard.

Arabe, however, said the number of signatures could not yet be tallied as online campaigns were also launched by youth groups and other sectors.

“The letter expresses our strong opposition to the mayor’s signing the agreement without providing information to the public and without community consultation,” said Gary Rosales, who is a member of both Kinaiyan and FENOR.

Arabe said the project will cause tremendous “irreversible damage to ecosystems that will affect the livelihood of local fishers”.

Foundation University president Dean Sinco, in a statement released to the media on Monday, also bucked the proposed reclamation project, citing environmental concerns as well as other issues that have to be addressed first prior to the start of the undertaking.

Sinco, an architect and staunch environmental advocate, said the project is “quite illegal and immoral as no due diligence was applied in its introduction and eventual approval”.

Outlining his opinions on issues of a landfill, the environment, and sewage, among others, he called for the protection and preservation of the boulevard as it is “our history” and “our promenade from the past”.

Meanwhile, Silliman University also put up a campaign on its social media page opposing what is now known as “174 Dumaguete”. The petition has so far been signed by 1,639 Sillimanians.

The university said it opposes building structures across the shorelines and the city’s joint venture agreement signing “unless and until a public consultation on its technical, ecological, social, and economic merits, and its potential cultural and financial costs, risks, and consequences to Dumaguete residents shall have been done”. (PNA)