Speaking at an online heritage forum in mid-August, Diocese of Dumaguete Bishop Julito Cortes opposed and criticized the planned reclamation project that will create an artificial island off the shores of Negros Oriental’s capital city.
Dubbed the Smart City, the P23-billion project spearheaded by the local government will reclaim 174 hectares of Dumaguete’s coastline for a mixed-use development seen to create jobs and revenue for the city.
Cortes, also the head of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines–Episcopal Commission on the Cultural Heritage of the Church
(CBCP-ECCHC), said the diocese he leads is against the project because “it is fraught with environmental and social concerns.”
The Dumaguete diocese and the CBCP-ECCHC are two of the institutions that supported the multisectoral online forum organized by the University of Santo Tomas Graduate School–Center for Conservation of Cultural Property and Environment in the Tropics titled “Reklamo sa Reklamasyon: Clamors against the Dumaguete Reclamation Project.” It discussed the “environmental, sociocultural, moral holocaust” the project will cause and advocated for alternative approaches that could lead to culture-based governance and heritage-driven developments.
The other institutions include the Silliman University, Philippine Association of Marine Sciences Inc., Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners (PIEP), United Architects of the Philippines–Dumaguete Chapter, San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation Inc., Heritage Conservation Society, Advocates for Heritage Preservation, Herencia and León Gallery.
In his message, Cortes said the integrity and cycles of nature must be respected in commercial developments and underscored that the project “will create 174 ha of coastal waters destroyed, 174 ha of underwater cemeteries,” apart from marine desertification, ecological degradation and coastal erosions.
“The environment takes precedence over economic activity, the latter harmonizing with environmental protection,” he said. The prelate described Dumaguete’s coast as a common good that cannot be promoted by market forces.
“Our role as stewards of God’s creation is not only to be aware of environmental issues and ecological concerns. Ours is to serve as role models of an ecological spirituality rooted in the moral principle that all creation is a common good gifted to us by God for the benefit of all,” he said.
Cortes also said the project should be scored on moral grounds, as it will affect the lives of the city’s residents.
Rights of nature
In a statement, PIEP said the project, which it describes as “not consultative,” violates Republic Act No. 7586, or the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992, as it will affect four marine protected areas.
These protected areas are located in Barangays Banilad, Bantayan, Lo-oc and Mangnao. It said that around “47 to 65 ha of coral reef and seagrass beds which serve as protection and conservation areas will irreversibly be converted into commercial use.” It also said that about 350 fish and coral species living in Dumaguete’s coastal waters will be affected, apart from serious environmental concerns, such as flooding, soil erosion and liquefaction.
Michael Manalo, head of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts–National Committee on Monuments and Sites, said the issue could be an impetus for pursuing what is being called in other countries as “the rights of nature.”
“We always think that we have the rights to anything as human beings, but nature also has rights,” he said. Manalo said that having a symbiotic relationship with nature is a delicate balance and once people go overboard, bad things occur.
“Man and nature could coexist symbiotically, but the balance must be maintained through effective legislation and public participation,” he said.
“We have to create that consciousness of creating legislations and involving people, and live that consciousness so that all of these will still be available not only to the next generations of people of Dumaguete but for the rest of the Philippines and the world,” he added.
Landscape architect and heritage advocate Paulo Alcazaren said the city has a lot of spaces to grow, thus the reclamation project is not needed at all.
Alcazaren, who is also an environmental planner, said this is not the first time a reclamation project was undertaken in Dumaguete as the extension of its port, and a smaller one allegedly for surge protection was previously built and had “compromised the natural resource of the seafront.” He said the reclamation, once completed, will serve as a plug to the flow of water from the rivers emanating from the uplands, which will result in environmental problems and disasters.
He said the project is unsustainable, as seen from the developments in major areas in the country such as Metro Manila and Metro Cebu which were not properly planned.
In a message, National Scientist Angel Alcala hopes experts who spoke during the online event can advise those planning the Dumaguete reclamation to “desist from destroying coastal ecosystems and marine biodiversity.”
He said the Philippines has more marine waters than land, and their preservation is very important. “There is no doubt that the marine environment is very important to human life,” he said.
Alcala also said that “we need to conserve marine species and ecosystems because they provide humans many benefits and services.”
In a separate statement, the Silliman University strongly opposed the project, seen to “cause damage and disruption of marine ecosystems not only in Dumaguete City, but also in adjoining areas.”
The marine protected areas of the city, it said, are “thriving with various species of marine life and are now in danger of being destroyed.”
Apart from the environmental and sociocultural effects, the reclamation project will also affect the historicity of Dumaguete’s shore, as it will alter the general area where the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres disembarked in 1904 to help in the education of children in the island of Negros.
A small enclosure at a portion of the famed Rizal Boulevard serves as a monument to that historic event, which led to the establishment of more than 60 institutions all over the country, including hospitals and schools.
Due to the site and the event’s national historical importance, a marker was installed at the said monument by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines in 2004. —CONTRIBUTED INQ