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Heritage group slams Erap’s Manila Bay reclamation projects

“Manila Bay and the City,” by Arthur Esguerra

A heritage group has expressed its opposition to the planned reclamation projects on Manila Bay.

The Heritage Conservation Society (HCS) said the reclamation would only worsen the situation of “informal communities” in the city and widen the gap between the rich and the poor, since much of reclamation had created “elite enclaves.”

Reclamation, HCS president Mark Evidente said, “divert attention from the real social, economic, and developmental problems” of Manila.

Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada has been reported to have disclosed that “four” reclamation projects were “the centerpiece” of City Hall’s “urban renewal.” He explained these would create more jobs, more businesses, and additional revenue for Manila.

The projects include the Manila Waterfront City, Horizon Manila, New Manila Bay International Community, and Manila Harbor Center expansion.

City Hall has earlier approved “Solar City,” which makes the total reclamation projects to five.

These projects will be undertaken in portions of the bay from the Manila Harbor in Tondo to the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Sense of place

Concerns were also raised by HCS, particularly on the resiliency of the reclaimed areas to disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons, and the impact of reclamation to nearby areas and the flow of tides and rivers. There are also fears it would exacerbate floods.

Solutions to Manila’s problems are not through reclamation and building high-rises and shopping complexes.

“The key is finding the best sense of place of a city, what makes it unique among all cities of the world, and magnifying that for the world to see,” HCS said.

HCS explained development is about the preservation of the city’s landmarks, which include walkable open spaces.

“With the historic and cultural importance of Manila Bay to the city, the redevelopment of the Old City should be anchored on, and be planned around a revitalized waterfront district,” HCS said.

“Great nations conserve and honor their old cities,” HCS said. “They make their old cities thrive. They use their old cities to teach their citizens about history, culture and their identity as a people. That is what great nations do.”

‘Sacred ground’

The National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) has evaluated the reclamation project, but, according to its new chair, Rene Escalante, “we could not agree as to what part of Manila Bay is historical and the legal basis that we can use for us to have jurisdiction.”

He said the matter was still being discussed by the board.

But in its own Resolution No. 19 in 2012, NHCP has declared the “Manila Bay and Waterfront from Del Pan Bridge to the Cultural Center of the Philippines” a National Historical Landmark (NHL) as it is the “sacred ground of our country’s long and rich history.”

In that resolution, the NHCP underscores the importance of the bay to the country as it was on its shores that an ancient civilization (later Islamic communities) thrived and for being an international commercial center since the precolonial times.

It also cited the bay’s other historic feats such as the 1570 battle between the Spaniards and Filipino forces, the Spanish-Dutch battle of 1647, the British invasion of the 1760s, the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898, among others.

“Manila Bay remains an intrinsic part of and a living testimony to the country’s history and heritage, enriched by exchanges around the bay and on the shores of Manila,” the NHCP notes in the declaration. –CONTRIBUTED

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