Supreme Court told: Go easy on Manila Bay clean up

By Gerry Albert Corpuz, Portnip Pakangcharap and Bb. Joyce Cabral

MANILA, Philippines- Slow down please.
THE left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Friday said Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona and 14 other justices should go easy in pushing its decision on Manila Bay clean up following reports that government agencies and local government units which have clinched deals with private investors are using the decision on Manila Bay rehabilitation to remove fisherfolk and urban poor have them replaced with projects financed by private interests.

Pamalakaya vice chairperson for Luzon Salvador France issued the statement hours after chief Justice Corona and 3 other SC justices joined the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in inspecting the cleanup of Manila Bay this morning.

Joining SC chief justice Corona in the inspection were SC associate justices Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo and Jose Perez with DENR Secretary Ramon Paje. They boarded on PCG Vessel BRP EDSA II that passed through the Pasig River and the Manila Bay area and off Navotas City and SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City.

“We strongly urge Chief Justice Corona and 4 other SC justices to exercise extreme prudence in enforcing their decision on Manila Bay rehabilitation. People and groups with vested interests to private Manila Bay are taking advantage and are using this landmark ruling to effectively eject the fishing people and urban poor folks opposed to Palace’s Public-Private Partnership (PPP) escapades in Manila Bay and adjacent rivers, tributaries including Laguna Lake,” the Pamalakaya leader said.

“The SC decision putting weight on the demolition of fishing communities and urban poor structures along Manila Bay and its interlocking tributaries that would include the whole of Pasig River and Laguna Lake is not only unfair but also revolting. It is a grand massacre of social justice and people’s rights,” France added.

Voting 11-4, the high tribunal two weeks ago instructed the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) until Dec. 31, 2015 to remove illegal structures along river banks and waterways connected to the bay.

“On or before June 30, 2011, the MMDA shall submit its plan for the removal of said informal settlers and the demolition of the aforesaid houses, structures, constructions and encroachments, as well as the completion dates for said activities, which shall be fully implemented not later than December 31, 2015,” the SC said.

The decision also gave the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and local governments in Rizal, Laguna, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga and Bataan provinces until Dec. 31, 2012 to demolish illegal settlements near river banks.

In its en banc resolution issued last Feb. 15, the SC noted that while some parties may view its orders as an encroachment on the powers of the executive branch, its Dec. 18, 2008 ruling “is but an integral part of the adjudicative function of the Court.”

But Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap dismissed the decision of the high tribunal as “injustice to the highest order”.

“The Supreme Court notion of environmental protection and rehabilitation is too narrow yet socially costly to the people and it puts the people of Manila Bay and Laguna Lake under heavy attack and endless dispossession of livelihood and extreme denial of housing rights. The 11 justices who voted on the decision forgot there are more than more than five million people, mainly fisherfolk and jobless and economic starving folks residing along Manila Bay and Laguna Lake communities. The decision is an across-the-Manila Bay and across-the-Laguna Lake tragedy,” said Hicap.

In a decision penned by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., the high court said “it is clear that the final judgment includes not only what appears upon its face to have been so adjudged but also those matters ‘actually and necessarily included therein or necessary thereto.’ Certainly, any activity that is needed to fully implement a final judgment is necessarily encompassed by said judgment.”

In December 2008, the SC dismissed the petitions filed by several government agencies asking the court to overturn the Court of Appeals September 2005 ruling upholding a Cavite trial court’s ruling. In that ruling, the Cavite court ordered the government agencies to clean-up Manila Bay and make it suitable for public bathing and swimming, and for catching milkfish and other similar fish species.

The Manila Bay Advisory Committee (MBAC) has recently reported to the SC that there were several setbacks in monitoring the implementation of its December 2008 decision. These include the lack of government agencies’ uniform manner of reporting their cleanup, rehabilitation, and preservation activities. Because of such problems the SC ordered the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to submit until June 30, 2011 its updated operation plan for the Manila Bay cleanup.

The high court also gave the DENR until Sept. 30, 2011 to submit the names and addresses of persons and companies in Metro Manila, Rizal, Laguna, Cavite, Bulacan, and Bataan that generate toxic and hazardous waste.

The Manila Bay clean up decision has put to task the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to order all local government heads in Metro Manila, Laguna, Cavite, Bulacan and Bataan to inspect all factories, commercial establishments and residences along the banks of the Pasig-Marikina-San Juan rivers, the Navotas-Malabon-Tullahan-Tenejeros rivers, the Meycauayan-Marilao-Obando (Bulacan) rivers, the Talisay (Bataan) River, the Imus (Cavite) River, and the Laguna de Bay, and other minor rivers and waterways that eventually discharge water into the Manila Bay.

The heads of the concerned local government units were given until the end of September this year to complete their respective inspections.

But Pamalakaya’s Hicap said the SC decision will be used by the government and their partners in crime in the private sector to effectively full-blast commercialization of Manila Bay and Laguna Lake under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) republic of the Aquino administration, which started during the time of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos up to the present administration of President Arroyo is the main reason the 190-kilometer bay is on the brink of general collapse.

“Please allow us to state the real score on Manila Bay. Eighty percent of the untreated water wastes that are thrown or dumped into the bay come from industries and commercial establishments situated along the bay. The reclamation activities of the government that began during the Marcos era up and which continue at present are also destroying Manila Bay and have prevented the ecosystem and marine life from regenerating,” Pamalakaya stated.

“We are not happy with the way the national government is treating Manila Bay. We are being blamed for its deterioration. Why us? We are not destroyers of natural resources and marine environment. We cannot destroy our main source of livelihood. It is impossible for us to do that, because destroying Manila Bay is like destroying our basis for existence. In fact, the fisherfolk are long running victims here of corporate exploitation and capital accumulation,” the group said.

The militant group said about 20,000 hectares of Manila Bay waters 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 (Government Service Insurance System) Building in Pasay City, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and Folk Arts Theater in Manila, and the SM Mall of Asia and other commercial companies in Pasay City.

Pamalakaya complained that while the government and the Supreme Court are blaming the fisherfolk and the urban poor over the deterioration of Manila Bay, the Philippine government and the DENR had upheld proposals of the state-owned Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) to develop the 90-hectare reclaimed casino and resort complex in Manila Bay.

On top of the $-15 billion casino project to be constructed along Manila Bay, Pamalakaya said the DENR had granted ECC to the ambitious Cavite Coastal Road Project II that would involve reclamation of more than 8,000 hectares of coastal waters along Manila Bay from Bacoor to Cavite City.

Pamalakaya said close to 3 million coastal people in Metro Manila and Cavite are still dependent on fishing as a principal source of livelihood, and any move to transform or convert Manila Bay for other purposes like the $15-billion casino project and the Cavite Phase II Coastal Road project will have a killing impact on the livelihood of small fishermen, aside from the fact that they would be demolished from their communities, once construction of support structures and establishments begins.

“From 1992 to 1995, the demolitions of coastal shanties became an everyday ordeal in Pasay Reclamation area. Houses were uprooted almost daily. Small and big time bribery to divide the communities were conducted to facilitate the demolition of coastal communities,” the group said.

The setting up of casino and resorts, including SM’s Mall of Asia was included 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.

Pamalakaya 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 Fidel Ramos to pave way for the construction of the proposed casino that would make the Philippines the Las Vegas of Asia.

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Filed under Laguna Lake, Manila Bay

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