GROUPS OPPOSING the proposed 174-hectare reclamation project in Dumaguete City are reinforcing their actions to pressure the government for more transparency and reconsider the plan. “The environmental catastrophe that the reclamation project would bring to the marine ecosystem is one thing, but having a Chinese firm as its subcontractor is quite another. We all know how China rampantly occupies our exclusive economic zone and exploits our marine resources at the expense of the livelihood of our fisherfolks and the national patrimony,” said fishers’ group PAMALAKAYA National Chairperson Fernando L. Hicap in a statement on Monday. PAMALAKAYA, which stands for Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas, said it aims to unite the local fishing communities with environmental and science groups in voicing out their opposition against the reclamation project, and the ‘creeping Chinese encroachment’ in different parts of the Philippine seas. Mr. Hicap said aside from its environmental effects, the P23-billion reclamation project should be strongly opposed since it would involve China-based Poly Changda Overseas Engineering Co. as a subcontractor. The developer of the reclamation project is E.M. Cuerpo, Inc., a Filipino construction firm based in Quezon City. Recently, PAMALAKAYA urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to reject the project due to its adverse impact on the marine environment, coastal communities, and local fish supply. “Having China in the picture makes the Dumaguete reclamation project not only an environmental and socio-economic concerns, but also a matter of national patrimony. This is not development, this is profit-driven project and foreign takeover in disguise,” he said.   

Meanwhile, a coalition called NO to 174DGTE also announced its opposition against the reclamation project, which is touted to become a “smart city.” The reclaimed area will host a clubhouse, heliport, yacht club, retirement villas, high-rise commercial and residential buildings, and malls. In a position paper, the coalition called for “respectful” dialogue and “meaningful” public consultations that will check the social, cultural, ecological, and economic implications of the reclamation project. “We have been told that the island will be a ‘smart city’ but a smart city is an informed city. The public was not informed of the unsolicited proposal by E.M. Cuerpo, nor of E.M. Cuerpo’s prior arrangements with the Chinese company Poly Changda Overseas Engineering Co., nor of the negotiations between Dumaguete City and E.M. Cuerpo in Feb. 2020 that led to a draft joint venture agreement,” the group said. “We object (to the reclamation) because an unnatural island along the coast will concentrate malodorous pollutants from our canals and drains in the narrow stream of water between the coast and island. It will increase flooding in our low-lying coastal communities as the natural flow of rivers and creeks is disrupted,” it added. Aileen P. Maypa, a representative of NO to 174DGTE, said in a mobile phone message that the coalition consists of environmental groups, youth groups, private institutions, and environmental lawyers, among others. The Dumaguete City government, in a project brief posted on its website, said it will “make sure the concerns of all stakeholders” will be submitted to the Philippine Reclamation Authority and the Environment department. The local government said the project will give “tremendous revenues” from business and real property taxes as well upgrade the city’s classification to highly-urbanized from a 3rd class. “There will be public consultations,” it said, as soon as the engineering and other technical studies are completed. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave