Bikers who participated in an earlier celebration of Earth Day had to go pass at most a 17-km traffic and pollution-heavy Manila to Parañaque. They were en route to a clean-up activity of one of the last three mangrove habitats in Metro Manila. But the fresh air and wonderful view of Manila Bay that greeted the bikers when they arrived at Freedom Island and Long Island were something one does not see or experience at the metro everyday.
One of the last nilad growths
Freedom Island and Long Island, formally known as Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (LPPCHEA), is considered as the last ‘coastal frontier’ of Metro Manila. It was declared a critical habitat by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 1412 in 2007. It covers an area of 175 hectares of mangrove forest, mudflats and diverse avifauna (birds that live in a certain place or period). In 2013, the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty for the conservation and use of wetlands, recognized LPPCHEA as the country’s 6th Wetland of International Importance along with Tubbataha Reefs in Sulu and Puerto Princesa Underground River in Palawan.
The area is home to 11 species of mangroves and 82 species of wild birds which some are endemic and most are migratory.
Among these mangroves is the nilad. Nilad refers to a rare species of mangroves, with the scientific name Scyphiphora hydrophyllacea, Manila Bay endemic but nearing extinction now. According to historians, Manila Bay formed the greenbelt of coastal Metro Manila where nilad mangroves abound. But after many years of haphazard urban development, these mangroves are almost gone and very few people can recognize these beautiful trees. The city of Manila got its name from nilad, when people referred to the area as “may nilad.”
The rich biodiversity of LPPCHEA is not only home to mangroves and birds but a source of livelihood for fisher folks and fish vendors. The thick mangrove forest also serves as a protection against storm surges to nearby communities like Brgy. La Huerta in Parañaque City which is home to around 10,000 residents.
“We need to preserve this area because it is the only mangrove forest left in Metro Manila,” said LPPCHEA Project Manager Rey Aguinaldo during the short program before the clean-up.
“The eastern portion of Manila Bay is the spawning or replenishing ground of fishery resources of Manila Bay which is why we need to protect it because it is also the source of livelihood of fisher folks and our food here in Metro Manila,” he added.
LPPCHEA is under threat of being reclaimed through the Las Piñas-Parañaque Coastal Bay Project. The project managed by the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) is a reclamation and land development of 635.1 hectares covering offshore areas of Las Piñas and Parañaque intended to become a government center, residential, industrial, educational and commercial zone.
In 2014, the Parañaque City government awarded a Public-Private Partnership contract to SM Prime Holdings, Inc., SM groups’ consolidated real estate subsidiaries owned by Henry Sy, for the 300 hectares reclamation project under Parañaque City’s jurisdiction. Although PRA has not released any approval yet for SM’s proposed consolidation of the reclamation, the Las Piñas – Parañaque Coastal Bay Project is still on PRA’s ‘reclamation projects in the pipeline’ despite many opposition and protests from different sectors.
“One purpose of our continued clean-up drives in Freedom Island is to prove that instead of reclamation, the government should rehabilitate Manila Bay,” said Raymond Palatino, Chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) Metro Manila and President of environmental group Nilad.
Save our sunset
The Las Piñas-Parañaque Coastal Bay Project is part of a larger reclamation plan in Manila Bay under the National Reclamation Plan approved under the PRA Board Resolution No. 4161 in 2011. A total of 26,234 hectares will cover coastal towns of Bulacan, Pampanga, Bataan, Metro Manila, and Cavite. The area that will be reclaimed will be as large as the combined cities of Caloocan (5,333 hectares), Quezon City (16,620 hectares), Manila (3,855 hectares) and San Juan (594 hectares).
Top businessmen in the country who will benefit from the reclamation projects include Tan Yu of Asia World Properties, Henry Sy of SM Group, George Ty of Metrobank Group of Companies and the R-1 Consortium composed of Jan de Nul N.V., TOA Corporation of Japan and D.M. Wenceslao and Associates, Inc., and Jacinto Ng of the Manila Bay Development Corporation).
In the City of Manila, a joint venture between the local government and Manila Goldcoast Development Corporation (MGDC) to build “Manila Solar City”, a commercial and residential center, was approved in 2012 which will reclaim 148 hectares along Roxas Boulevard. MGDC is owned by William Tieng, owner of Solar Group of Companies.
The Solar City project is in hiatus due to several protests from different groups opposing the project. People’s Network for the Integrity of Coastal Habitats and Ecosystems (People’s NICHE), a multi-sectoral alliance for the protection of marine ecosystems, argued that the reclamation of Manila Bay will greatly endanger the marine ecosystem which contributes to food production and mitigates disaster caused by calamities. Furthermore, the group argued that the bay has a historical and cultural value which should be preserved.
The bike ride and coastal clean-up on April 16 was spearheaded by Bikers Unite, a cyclists welfare and advocacy group, Nilad, a Metro Manila wide network of environmental groups, and in cooperation with Save Freedom Island Movement, Earth Island Institute and the Office of Senator Cynthia Villar.