The United States has expressed concerns over ongoing reclamation projects in Manila Bay, bordering its embassy, and the involvement of a Chinese construction firm blacklisted by Washington.
Embassy spokesperson Kanishka Gangopadhyay said their diplomats in Manila are in regular discussions with the Philippine government regarding ongoing China-backed reclamation projects in Manila Bay.
"We have expressed concerns about the potential negative long-term and irreversible impacts to the environment, the resilience to natural hazards of Manila and nearby areas, and to commerce," Gangopadhyay said in a media statement.
"We are also concerned that the projects have ties to the China Communications Construction Co., which has been added to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Entity List for its role in helping the Chinese military construct and militarize artificial islands in the South China Sea," he added.
The company has also been cited by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for engaging in fraudulent business practices.
The expansion of reclamation around Manila Bay will soon be home to luxury hotels, casinos, restaurants, shopping centers, and high-end residential buildings, envisioned to become a prime entertainment and gaming tourism spot similar to Las Vegas and Macau.
Gangopadhyay said that the US government only supported "high quality, sustainable, and transparent investments to benefit the Filipino people."
The embassy said it will continue to engage with the appropriate authorities on the matter, Gangopadhyay said.
GMA News Online has sought comment from the Chinese Embassy and will post its response as soon as available.
Chinese firm passed gov’t standards
The Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) said the Chinese firm contracted for the projects passed the standards of various government agencies when it was allowed to operate in the country last year.
“Wala naman kaming natanggap na as in na categorical na blacklisting nung this corporation,” Joseph John Literal, PRA Assistant General-Manager for Reclamation and Regulation, said in JP Soriano’s report on “24 Oras”.
(We did not receive a categorical blacklisting of the company.)
“These are all parang allegations lang from news outlets outside the Philippines na they’re involved in the reclamation of the West Philippines Sea... 'Yung mga artificial islands. Na-process naman yung mga permits nila so we assumed that they’re doing business here in a legal manner or lawful naman 'yung pag do business nila right now,” Literal said.
(These are all allegations from news outlets outside the Philippines that they’re involved in the reclamation of the West Philippines Sea… Their permits were processed so we assumed that they’re doing business here in a legal manner or lawful.)
The PRA further said they are set to meet with the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Manila City officials, and the Chinese company to discuss the reclamation.
Went through processes
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian confirmed his family was involved in the negotiation but added that he personally was not part of it.
He declined to directly comment on the US Embassy’s allegations but said that the Manila Waterfront Reclamation Project went through the correct and legal processes.
“Ang payo ko sa kanila is look at the process. Kasi sila, ang US Embassy mahilig magturo ng proseso, rule of law. They should abide by rule of law and the process,” Gatchalian said.
(My advice is for them to look at the process. The US Embassy has a habit of teaching the process and the rule of law. They should abide by the rule of law and the process.)
GMA Integrated News also reached out to the Manila City government and its partner, Waterfront Philippines Incorporated for statements.
‘The Big One’
Also on Wednesday, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said that the possible occurrence of a major earthquake should be considered when it comes to the reclamation projects in the Manila Bay.
At a Palace press briefing, Environment Secretary Antonia Yulo Loyzaga said reclamation projects were necessary in improving the economy but added that their impact on the environment should also be considered.
"I think what’s important is reclamation has a certain value, obviously in terms of the economy. However, we need to do the cost benefit analysis in terms of the impact to the ecology and the longer term impact in terms of possibly what could result from climate change," Loyzaga said.
"For example, sea level rise needs to be considered, the different possible geological events that could actually take place —as you know, there has been a lot of talk about the ‘big one’ ‘no," she added.
The sea level rise should also be a consideration in the conduct of the reclamation projects, Loyzaga said.
"All of these need to be taken to consideration in terms of scenarios for reclamation as well as the subsidence that is ongoing because of the extraction of groundwater from the coastal areas of Manila Bay," Loyzaga said.
Loyzaga reiterated that the DENR has been conducting cumulative impact assessment on the reclamation projects to demonstrate the effects of the projects to the Manila Bay.
Back in February, the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) said it will start filling land in one of the three reclamation projects this year in the bay area.
“The project is a mixed development, institutional, residential, and commercial,” PRA assistant general manager Joseph Literal said.
The permits for the projects were completed from 2019 to 2021 under the Duterte administration.
At least 5,000 hectares of Manila Bay will be needed for the total of 13 reclamation projects that have been approved. —LDF/NB, GMA Integrated News