Some people do not take kindly to oddball questions like this, so let me try something more realistic. What would you do if you knew you could save Manila Bay and its world-famous sunset?
You can, if you take time to help stop another development project from changing a waterscape that has been, for years, a source of national pride for us Filipinos.
In April 2012 the city government of Manila entered into a consortium agreement with Manila Gold Coast Development Corporation to reclaim the area covering the entire Manila Bay waterfront along Roxas Boulevard between the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the US Embassy and turn it into the new city commercial and business district. Critics, however, view the plan as a desperate move to save the city at the expense of an age-old heritage. The target area for reclamation, which is “ten times the size of Rockwell, four times the size of Eastwood, and twice the size of Rizal Park,” if developed as planned, will block the remaining area of the bay that is open to public view from Roxas Boulevard. If we take this sitting down, this could mean goodbye to the sunset at the bay.
And we might as well brace ourselves for a Pandora’s box of related woes. In a press conference hosted recently by the SOS Manila Bay Coalition—a group composed of environmentalists, urban planners, heritage conservationists, concerned artists, tourism groups, Catholic groups, and urban poor—some of the potential ills of the ‘poorly planned’ project were highlighted. Apparently it had not taken into account the possible impact on coastal and marine geology, weather changes, and existing heritage structures. A JICA-funded study has identified the coastal areas along the Manila Bay as highest risk for liquefaction in the most likely earthquake scenarios.
A study by the UP National Institute of Geological Science, copies of which were given out during the press con, summarizes its findings:
Land subsidence resulting from excessive extraction of groundwater is particularly acute in East Asian countries. Some Philippine government sectors have begun to recognize that the sea-level rise of one to three millimeters per year due to global warming is a cause of worsening floods around Manila Bay, but are oblivious to, or ignore, the principal reason: excessive groundwater extraction is lowering the land surface by several centimeters to more than a decimeter per year. Such ignorance allows the government to treat flooding as a lesser problem that can be mitigated through large infrastructure projects that are both ineffective and vulnerable to corruption. Money would be better spent on preventing the subsidence by reducing groundwater pumping and moderating population growth and land use, but these approaches are politically and psychologically unacceptable. Even if groundwater use is greatly reduced and enlightened land-use practices are initiated, natural deltaic subsidence and global sea-level rise will continue to aggravate flooding, although at substantially lower rates.
Thus a reclamation project this huge will lead to more massive groundwater extraction and would aggravate the flooding situation. It would also lead to a worsening of the traffic and sanitation problem in the city. The currently scenic Roxas Boulevard will become another Taft Avenue.
Interestingly, the proposed project has found supporters in Mines and Geosciences Bureau Director Leo Jasareno and urban development expert and architect Felino Palafox Jr. Both agree that it could be “Metro Manila’s best defense against climate change.” It would be good to have a public discussion among experts on the field on the project’s impact on the community. As it is, however, the consortium agreement has certain confidentiality clauses, which the SOS Manila Bay Coalition finds dubious and should have no place in a government contract.
My personal stake
I fondly recall my father going fishing on weekends on the spot where the breakwater is now, with a tomboyish me tagging along. Back then, the bay waters were cleaner and safer and palm-sized fish biting the bait was common. This is one priceless memory I’d like to share with my grandchildren in the future. It will please me no end to tell them “this is where your great grandfather and I used to go fishing.” It will be heartbreaking if the opportunity presents itself but the bay is not there anymore.
[The SOS Manila Bay Coalition has started a People’s Petition against the Reclamation of Manila Bay. View the petition online and sign it if you care enough to save the bay.]