THE Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said it will form a task force to assess the impact of reclamation activities, particularly in Manila Bay.

“We’ve organized the team (of Filipino scientists), and we will be taking on some foreign expertise,” Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga told reporters on Monday on the sidelines of a reclamation forum.

“We want to assemble the team by August. Many of these have actually been involved in assessing what is happening here in Manila Bay,” she said.

Ms. Loyzaga said that the team will use the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master Plan (MBSDMP) as a baseline for the community impact assessment while collecting further data.

The MBSDMP was prepared by the National Economic and Development Authority, with support from the Dutch government.

“Reclamation, of course, is one way forward in terms of the economic development of the different areas. However, kailangan talagang masinsinan ang approach (we need a thorough approach that welcomes) different perspectives from all groups,” she said.

According to Environment Undersecretary Jonas R. Leones, nine of the reclamation sites in the National Capital Region cost a combined P330.6 billion over 11,143.72 hectares.

The Parañaque Reclamation Project is the largest at P76.7 billion, followed by the Pasay City Reclamation Project (P72 billion) and Navotas Coastal Bay Reclamation Project (P58 billion).

“Reclamation spurs economic activity and generates revenue for the government,” Mr. Leones said. “However, reclamation should not only be confined to the economic parameters but also (viewed in) the context of environmental protection and conservation, disaster risk and climate change mitigation that are science and evidence-based,” he added.

Ms. Loyzaga said the DENR is building the capacity to assess reclamation impacts by involving higher education institutions such as the University of the Philippines, as well as foreign experts.

“We are seriously concerned about (whether) the level of science… available to us as a department can meet the challenge of (promoting) marine biodiversity,” Ms. Loyzaga said.

“We are at the point where we need to acknowledge that these types of outreach are necessary to effectively do our job,” she said. — Sheldeen Joy Talavera