THE GOVERNMENT of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has suspended all reclamation projects in Manila Bay pending a review of their environmental and social effects.

“All of these projects are suspended at this point,” Environment Secretary Ma. Antonia “Toni” Yulo-Loyzaga told a news briefing on Thursday.

“All [projects] are under review,” she said. “We have to take our time, really beginning with those that are ongoing because they’re in fact already impacting the areas. And then we will graduate to all those that have not yet begun.”

Ms. Yulo-Loyzaga issued the clarification after Mr. Marcos said all Manila Bay projects — except one — had been suspended.

There are 22 reclamation projects in the bay, which is surrounded by Metro Manila and the provinces of Bataan, Pampanga, Bulacan and Cavite.

Ms. Yulo-Loyzaga said her agency would write to the 22 project operators about the compliance review. The Environment department is looking at the conditions that allowed the issuance of environmental compliance certificates and clearances to the companies, she added.

Permits for the reclamation projects were completed from 2019 to 2021 under the administration of ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who led a foreign policy pivot to China in exchange of investment pledges, few of which had materialized.

The US Embassy in Manila earlier this month expressed concern about a Manila Bay reclamation project that has links to China Communications Construction Co. (CCCC), a Chinese construction company that Washington blacklisted in 2020 along with other companies for helping the Chinese military build and militarize artificial islands in the South China Sea.

The World Bank and Asian Development Bank had also flagged the state-owned company for engaging in fraudulent business practices, the embassy said.

Scientist group Agham welcomed the suspension of reclamation projects in Manila Bay and the resolution filed in the House of Representatives to probe the projects’ status.

“This victory was achieved through the collective action of various civil society organizations who have tirelessly campaigned against reclamation for years,” it said in a statement.

Agham was among the stakeholders that her agency has been consulting on reclamation issues, Ms. Yulo-Loyzaga told the briefing.

“We challenge the Marcos administration to release this policy of suspension and immediately implement it on the ground,” Agham said.

It also urged the government to release a report on the status of coastal ecosystems affected by the projects.

“For example, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) must report how much of the coastline was altered, and how many hectares of mangroves were destroyed,” it said.

“DENR must also report the status of the seabed in Cavite where sand used as filling material for reclamation projects was excavated,” it added.

Meanwhile, Ms. Yulo-Loyzaga said social scientists would be included in the group of experts who will assess the effects of the reclamation projects.

“There will be climate scientists on board. There will be social scientists on board,” she said, adding that the projects’ effects on communities should always be considered.

Opposition Senator Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros-Baraquel on Wednesday urged Mr. Marcos to bar China from funding reclamation projects in the Philippines

The Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) said two of the six approved reclamation projects in Manila Bay belong to China Harbour Engineering Co. Ltd., a unit of China Communications Construction.

“CCCC, like its home country China, has committed many violations against the Philippines,” Ms. Hontiveros-Baraquel said. “From building artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea to now reclaiming land in Metro Manila, China is destroying Philippine territory left, right and center. How can we negotiate with Beijing when she acts in bad faith?”

The opposition senator said the Philippines should ban CCCC after China’s Coast Guard blocked and fired a water cannon at Philippine vessels on a resupply mission at Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea. Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza