The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) met with the leaders of environmental groups that oppose reclamation in Manila Bay on April 14 at the DENR Central Office in Quezon City.

DENR consulted sector representatives as part of the Department’s continuous policy review and outreach to stakeholders on environmentally critical issues including Fernando Hicap, President of Pamalakaya (National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organization in the Philippines); Narod Eco, member of AGHAM (Advocates of Science and Technology for the People) and former researcher at the University of the Philippines’ National Institute of Geological Sciences; Atty. Rose-Liza Osorio, Legal and Policy Specialist of Oceana Philippines; Paco Perez, Campaign Officer of NILAD; Jerwin Baure, Public Information Officer of AGHAM; and Jon Bonifacio, National Coordinator of Kalikasan PNE (People’s Network for the Environment). Joining the meeting were DENR Undersecretaries Jonas Leones, Juan Miguel Cuna, CP David, and Marilou Erni; DENR Technical Adviser to the Secretary Dr. Noralene Uy; Professor Jessica Bercilla; and Atty. Gia Ibay, Head of the Climate Change and Energy Programme of World Wildlife Fund Philippines (WWF).

Environment Secretary Antonia Loyzaga stated that inputs from all sectors are valuable for the DENR to deliver its mandate. This dialogue enables the gaining of ground-based knowledge and accelerates the collection of data and evidence from affected communities and stakeholders. DENR will continue consultations with academic institutions, experts, advocates, and other civil society groups next.

“We are reviewing everything – policies, processes, and the immediate actions that need to be taken in order to address this environmental issue. Your inputs today are valuable for the DENR. I am here to listen. That is the promise I am giving you. That listening will result in what we are trying to actually achieve: changes in the process, changes in the policy, and possibly, changes in the people,” said Loyzaga.

Fernando Hicap, President of Pamalakaya, said Loyzaga’s appointment last year by President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. was a welcome decision for their groups, citing her expertise in science and climate change. He later expressed disappointment over what he considers as irreversible damage in Manila Bay caused by reclamation, its impacts on the livelihoods of people dependent on fishing, and the alleged threats to those who oppose it.
Loyzaga expressed the Department’s appeal for environmental groups to share data and evidence to help the DENR accelerate the reforms that need to be undertaken. The groups likewise requested specific policy reforms, particularly a review of the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) system and process.

AGHAM member and former researcher for the University of the Philippines’ National Institute of Geological Sciences Narod Eco urged the DENR to make the system and process more participatory rather than just being consultative.

“Sana mayroon tayong takdang ‘threshold [of harm]’ para i-deny ang ECC. Sana ay mai-apply din ang precautionary principle sa mga projects na ito,” said Eco. “Marami nang scientists, hindi lang po ako na naglatag na ng mga detalyadong argumento laban sa proyekto na ito, sa iba’t ibang aspeto din. Ang kagandahan po sa siyensiya ng Manila Bay ay robust po siya at hindi lang siya nanggagaling sa isang perspective.”

The environmental groups also requested, and the DENR agreed to, regular consultation and increased interdepartmental coordination on fisheries with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

Loyzaga shared that the DENR is building a constituency for resilient development through continuous consultation. It will hold an Experts Forum on Reclamation in May that will be composed of two sessions: Governance and Technical Issues. The former will tackle processes, policies, programs, plans, and actions, while the latter session will focus on the scientific aspect of reclamation. The Secretary invited Pamalakaya and AGHAM as panelists in the multistakeholder forum.

The Secretary closed the meeting by stating, “The processes and policies currently being reviewed are part of a larger effort to bring integrity to the Department… we need to understand that we must be fit for our purpose and for the values that we want the Department to represent.” ###