ENVIRONMENTAL group Oceana questioned the “apparent rush” in undertaking a proposed 12-hectare reclamation project in Toledo City amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
In a statement posted on Facebook, Oceana warned that the proposed project will destroy Tañon Strait, a protected seascape between Cebu and Negros islands, and displace the fisherfolk.
“Why the apparent rush to proceed with the project at this time when the priority should be to stop the spread of Covid-19 infection and help the people recover from the socio-economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic?” Oceana vice president Gloria Estenzo Ramos said.
“Toledo City is home to poor fisherfolk dependent on the Tañon Strait for their food and livelihood. Ironically, the local government seemed to be preoccupied with an ecologically destructive project that will put the health and well-being of their poor coastal communities in jeopardy,” Ramos added.
Toledo City Mayor Marjorie Perales, in response, said she only works for the welfare of the people in the city.
“She is committed to work for the common good and for the best of the city,” Toledo City Public Information Officer Roseller Layan said, referring to Perales.
Oceana had also opposed the reclamation project proposed by the previous administration under former mayor John Henry Osmeña.
Support from Cimatu
The group expressed its opposition once again following reports that Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu had given the go signal for the project, which will reclaim 12 hectares of foreshore lands in Barangay Poblacion, Toledo City.
Approval of a reclamation project, however, rests with the Philippine Reclamation Authority Governing Board, not with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Osmeña, in a separate statement, said he was glad that Cimatu supports the project.
Oceana, however, said “dumping and filling of the coast of Toledo City should not be allowed because of the huge environmental impact it will cause apart from displacing artisanal fisherfolk.”
Ramos said the protected seascape of Tañon Strait is an important migration corridor and habitat for marine mammals, with at least 14 species found in its waters.
It also harbors 70 to 100 species of fish, 20 species of crustaceans, 26 species of mangroves and 18,830 hectares of coral reefs.
A reclamation project would be inconsistent with the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape management plan, Ramos said.
Such project would also endanger the livelihood of small artisanal fisherfolk, she added.
Ramos pointed out that before the project could be approved, it has to be found compliant with the Environmental Impact Assessment System Act, the Fisheries Code as amended and several conservation laws, apart from the Nipas Act.
Under the Local Government Code, a national law and a plebiscite are required before “any substantial alteration in the territorial boundaries of the LGUs” is allowed.
“Will the local government comply with the law?” Ramos asked.
Ramos said the local government would need to submit a comprehensive environmental impact study and participatory process, and secure an environmental compliance certificate, an area clearance, approval from the Protected Area Management Board and the authority to reclaim from the PRA.
Executive Order 74 signed by President Rodrigo Duterte also requires cumulative impact assessment and hydrodynamic modeling, among others.
Tañon Strait was declared as a protected area under Proclamation No. 1234 issued in 1998. (JJL)