News / 14 June 2021

Concerns about a new airport in vulnerable Manila Bay

In Manila Bay, a vulnerable coastal area next to the Philippine capital city, a new airport is being planned, with involvement of the Dutch water sector. Local civil society organisations raised their concerns about this airport, which has large impact on the lives of local residents and on the ecosystem.

The Philippines has formed a partnership with the Netherlands in 2016 to create the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master Plan (MBSDMP). This Master Plan should guide decision-makers in the assessment and approval of programs, activities, projects for implementation in Manila Bay and in adjacent areas with significant influence on the bay.

Part of the Master Plan is a recommendation on how to deal with the many unsolicited proposals for land reclamation that are offered to the government. These proposals are problematic as often the goal of the reclamation is unclear and the project sites are overlapping. The MBSDMP states that these proposals need to be evaluated in the context of all requests in order to get sustainable development in Manila Bay.

Environmental and social concerns about the new airport

One of the largest proposed land reclamation projects is the New Manila International Airport (NMIA), planned to be constructed off the coast of Bulacan province. Local civil society and communities have many concerns regarding the airport and the impact on the environment and their lives. The land reclamation and further infrastructure of the airport will cause damages to and loss of natural habitats and ecosystems in the Bulacan area and surrounding areas where physical development and construction activities will take place. The project area consists of mangrove forests and mudflats that are the nursery for many fish and bird species, and play an important role for migratory birds as a resting place in their travels.

All residents that were living on the proposed project location have been displaced from their homes. Some people left and self-demolished their homes voluntarily in return for compensation whereas others were denied access to their houses without their consent. There are no clear plans to support the relocation of the local population and help with alternative livelihood opportunities. Civil society is also worried about the safety of the people in informal settlements in the area. The airport and the further infrastructure will provide job opportunities but it is unclear if the local residents will be included in these opportunities and their futures are uncertain.

Airport is contradictory to the MBSDMP

The location of the NMIA is in a strict environmental protection zone. These zones are recommended by the MBSDMP to protect the mangrove forests and other vulnerable habitats. The Master Plan contains a policy note that states that the current location is not suitable for the NMIA, finding another location would be best. If the project is not relocated, well planned compensation for the loss of habitat and mangroves should be implemented. Despite the involvement of the Dutch water sector in the design of the MBSDMP, the Dutch dredging company Boskalis has been contracted to do the land development for the reclamation.

The communities that are affected are barely able to get in touch with the exploiting party and they do not get sufficient information on what is happening. Both ENDS's local partner organizations try to influence the situation, which is very challenging as it is hard for them to get in contact with the authorities. In the Dutch context, Both ENDS brings the voices of these local partners to the fore and supports them by bringing human rights and environmental protection to the attention of the involved Dutch parties. The MBSDMP in itself offers a vision and principles that enable sustainable and inclusive development of Manila Bay and Both ENDS and partners therefore aim for this master plan to be leading for further developments in the area.

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