Local government units failed to protect the tourist town of Coron, Palawan during the height of the pandemic against a now-halted 51-hectare reclamation project, according to a Coron-based environmental group.
In an interview on Tuesday (May 24), Bob Magallanes, a volunteer of civic movement group Sagip Coron said that the project was able to continue despite a cease-and-desist order and several violations.
“Talagang sirang-sira ang mga bundok. Nakaka-shock kasi napakaganda talaga ng bayan ng Coron. Nung tumuloy kami sa reclamation, nakita namin doon tinatambak ang mga lupa. During pandemic, walang taong nakakalabas kaya sinamantala nila yung oras na yon para magtambak sila,” Magallanes said.
(The mountains were destroyed. We were shocked because the town of Coron is really beautiful. When we went to the reclamation site, we saw the soil being dumped. No one was able to go out during the height of the pandemic so they took advantage of that time to dump more soil.)
“Sumulat kami sa LGU para magkaroon ng public dialogue para malaman anong nangyayari. Sad to say wala silang sagot up to March 9 nagbigay kami ng deadline,” he added.
(We wrote to the LGU to have a public dialogue so we can clarify what was happening. Sad to say, they didn’t respond to us until March 9 so we gave a deadline.)
Julito Sarge Sarmiento, legal counsel of Sagip Coron, said that they went straight to President Rodrigo Duterte because the LGU was mum on what was happening. The president then confirmed that what was happening was illegal.
In an order dated May 12, Joe Amie M. Salino, regional director of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) in MIMAROPA, directed the provincial government of Palawan – the project proponent – to immediately suspend all activities in the reclamation project.
“The Provincial Government of Palawan being the registered Proponent of the project and a continuing corporate entity regardless of the elected local executive has the burden of ensuring that the conditions as stated in the [environmental compliance certificate] ECC are strictly complied with including the submission of reportorial requirements,” read the order.
The DENR-EMB also slapped a P50,000 fine on the project’s proponents for their failure to comply with the required compliance monitoring report.
The project was granted an ECC in July 2007 for a 3-ha coastal reclamation in Coron. Two years later, in October 2009, another ECC was issued allowing an additional reclamation of 48 ha.
A joint inspection of the DENR-EMB and the Philippine Reclamation Authority in March found that the CBDP bilated guidelines set on its ECC.
The project reportedly only constructed a temporary drainage with no filtration system, allowing solid waste to drain to the sea. However, the project still proceeded despite protests by environmentalists and residents concerned.
Marion Raagas, one of the convenors of SCP, welcomed the cancellation of the project’s ECC but noted that it was merely a start of the “journey toward full rehabilitation” of Coron’s damaged marine environment.
“The cancellation of the ECC is a major breakthrough in Sagip Coron’s efforts to resolve the illegal reclamation and quarrying activities in Coron. However, we are also cognizant that this is just the start of our journey toward full rehabilitation of Coron Bay and bring back the livelihood of its people,” Raagas said.
The project has not only threatened to destroy the island’s biodiversity, but has also affected the sources of income of fishers and farmers after hills on the island were quarried and were put in the sea.
In another reclamation project almost 50 times the size of the Coron project, this time in central Luzon, the Aerotropolis project by San Miguel Corporation in Taliptip, Bulacan has displaced fisherfolk and resulted in illegal and massive mangrove cutting within sitios since 2018.
The incidents have destroyed corals, seagrasses, and mangroves in both Coron and Bulacan, in the name of reclamation.
Pola Rubio is a news writer and photojournalist covering Philippine politics and events. She regularly follows worldwide and local happenings. She advocates for animal welfare and press freedom.
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