SC ruling on Manila Bay effectively stops Palace’s $ 15-billion casino project, fishers group says
The left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Friday said the Supreme Court ruling on Manila Bay effectively stopped Malacañang and the state-owned Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) from pursuing the ambitious 15-billion dollar casino project.
“President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her dream to transform Manila Bay into the newest gambling Mecca in Asia is legally stopped by the high tribunal decision to restore the bay back to its pristine and historic glory,” Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap said in a press statement.
Days before Christmas last month, the high court issued a ruling the upheld the previous rulings of the lower courts on the 1999 petition of a group of concerned citizens compelling the national government and several government agencies and local governments to clean up Manila Bay and bring back its healthy state.
“The SC ruling on Manila Bay clean up will prevent the government from proceeding with anti-environment projects along the coastal shores of the National Capital Region and provinces of Bulacan, Bataan and Pampanga in Central Luzon and Cavite province in Southern Tagalog region. It automatically bars the government and its private clients from reclaiming 90-hectares of shallow waters in Roxas Boulevard for the 15-billion dollar casino and theme park project,” the Pamalakaya leader added.
Hicap said the reclamation activities in Manila Bay since the Marcos era paved way for the destruction of the bay. He said the left-and right reclamations that were used to host huge government and private buildings and commercial spaces radically altered the use and ecological state of the bay, which was once one of the biggest fish producing fishing areas in the Philippines.
Last year Malacañang and Pagcor officials led the groundbreaking ceremony for the $ 15-billion Las Vegas style casino and tourism complex in Manila Bay. Pagcor said the actual development of the 90-hectare casino and resort complex will begin in the third quarter of the 2008. The state-owned gaming corporation said companies with approved proposals must invest at least one billion U.S. dollars for their projects, with initial $ 400 million investments in the first two-years.
One of the investors, the Azure Corporation proposed to develop the Okada Resort Manila Bay, an integrated casino resort with 2,000 standard rooms and 300 VIP suites. Its main features include the biggest oceanarium, theaters and giant Ferris wheel similar to the “London Eye” and would be called the “Manila Eye.”
For its part, Genting Berhard, with its partners Star Cruises and Alliance Global Incorporated, plans to build several hotels with a minimum room capacity of 2,000 rooms and a world-class theme park.
The SM Holdings of Henry Sy, owner of SM Mall of Asia near Manila Bay, is also planning to put up a gaming facility and will tie up with Asia-Pacific Gaming of Australia, and a major luxury hotel to be managed by Radisson Hotels and Resorts at the Mall of Asia Complex side of the Manila Bay Integrated City.
On the other hand, Bloombery Investments Ltd. is planning to construct three luxury hotels with a total capacity of 1,500 rooms, with high-end retail shops, celebrity-themed dining, and a major entertainment and sports center that could rival the best in Las Vegas.
Pagcor chair Efraim Genuino said the $15-billion Manila Bay Casino project will raise the gaming company’s income by at least 30 percent once it becomes fully operational, and it is expected to generate 250,000 fresh jobs to accommodate 3 million foreign and domestic guests per year.
Pamalakaya’s Hicap said a conservative 3 million coastal people in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga and Cavite are still dependent to fishing and fish-related activities in Manila Bay. “The irrevocable desire of Malacañang to convert Manila Bay into an international gateway for big time gamblers both international and domestic is not only blasphemous, but also detestable and highly revolting. This government is sacrificing the future of Manila Bay fishers at the altar of corporate interest and gambling addiction of the international and domestic elites,” he said.
Pamalakaya’s Hicap said their group’s members had bitter memories of the reclamation projects facilitated by the Public Estate Authority under the PEA-Amari deal, which they opposed since it was first proposed in the 90s.
“The attack dogs of then President Fidel Ramos were always on the loose. They were running after our members like running lapdogs of the former President chasing our members as if they were the most wanted criminals in the city,” he recalled.
“From 1992 to 1995, the demolitions of coastal shanties became an everyday ordeal in Pasay Reclamation area. Houses were uprooted on almost day-to-day basis. Small and big time bribery to divide the communities were conducted to facilitate the demolition of homes as if the words and orders of Malacañang were the words of God in this country,” Hicap said.
The setting up of casino and resorts, including SM’s Mall of Asia was all in the master plan of the government known as Manila Bay Master Development Plan that officially started during the time of President Ramos and projected to end between 2020 and 2025.
The Pamalakaya leader recalled that 3,500 small fisherfolk in Pasay Reclamation Area, and another 3,000 coastal and urban poor families along the coastal shores of Parañaque were evicted by the government of former President Ramos to allow the construction of the proposed casino that would make the Philippines the Las Vegas of Asia.
The militant group said 60 percent of pollution entering Manila Bay comes through the Pasig River, and 80 percent of the pollution comes from industries and commercial establishments situated along the country’s major river system in the National Capital Region. Another 15 percent of the pollution that gets into Manila Bay comes from Pampanga River, which the group said, is colonized by big and small polluting factories.
“The government is blaming over fishing as a major factor in the degradation of Manila Bay. That is a flimsy and ridiculous excuse. The massive privatization and conversion of public lands and coastal communities along the bay since the Marcos dictatorship up to present administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is the principal reason why Manila Bay is under the Intensive Care Unit, and suffering from environmental comatose,” Pamalakaya said.
The militant group said not less than 20,000 hectares of Manila Bay have been subjected to reclamation to pave way for the construction of special economic zones in Bataan and Cavite, the commercial spaces presently occupied by Manila Film Center, the GSIS Building in Pasay City, the Cultural Center of the Philippines and Folk Arts Theater in Manila, and the SM Mall of Asia and other commercial companies in Pasay City. #