Press release / 25 May 2022

Award of export support for controversial project in Manilla undermines the Netherlands’ environmental and CSR ambitions

Dutch export credit agency Atradius DSB announced yesterday that it is to provide export credit insurance worth 1,5 billion euros to Dutch dredging company Boskalis for a controversial land reclamation project in the Philippines. According to Dutch and international organisations, including Both ENDS, CARE Netherlands, IUCN NL, Kalikasan PNE and Oceana Philippines, the award of export credit insurance for this project runs contrary to the Netherlands' ambitions in the areas of environment and corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Boskalis is to reclaim more than 2,600 hectares of land in the bay of the Philippine capital Manila for the construction of the New Manila International Airport (NMIA). After obtaining the contract for the megaproject at the end of 2020, the Dutch dredging company applied for state export credit insurance through Atradius DSB. By awarding the insurance, the Dutch state would provide security for any losses incurred by Boskalis in implementing the project.

The project is controversial because hundreds of families have been forced to leave their homes and thousands of fishers have been denied access to their fishing grounds. In addition, the project will mean the destruction of crucial wetlands that are home to much wildlife, including internationally endangered migratory birds. Despite the concerns of politicians, local communities and civil society organisations in the Netherlands and the Philippines, the application has been approved by Atradius DSB Dutch state secretary for finance Marnix van Rij.

Master Plan

Recently, with Dutch funding and in cooperation with the Philippine government, Dutch water engineers drew up a Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master Plan (MBSDMP), which makes concrete recommendations for the sustainable development of the bay. The plan proposes that the north of Manila Bay should remain protected against large-scale development, because of the enormous biodiversity and to protect the coast against flooding. "The construction of the airport within the designated protected areas and buffer zones against floods and typhoons runs contrary to the essence of the government's MBSDMP and to existing legislation and policy on environmental protection," says Rose-Liza Eisma-Osorio, legal and policy analyst at Oceana Philippines.

"First the Netherlands finances a master plan to protect Manila, then it provides financial support for a Dutch dredging company to completely undermine the plan's recommendations", says Murtah Shannon of Both ENDS. "This airport will not only have a disastrous impact on the people and the environment in the immediate surroundings but will also serve as a springboard for the further development of infrastructure in the area, which will only increase the danger of floods around Manilla and reduce biodiversity even further."

International standards for corporate social responsibility

Civil society organisations maintain that, in the process of assessing the project and the application for export credit insurance by Atradius DSB, international CSR agreements have been seriously ignored. Atradius DSB refused, for example, to make public its agreements with Boskalis and the client, the San Miguel Corporation (SMC). That makes it impossible for third parties to check the content of and compliance with the agreements. That also applies to compensation for communities affected by the project, which has not yet been provided in line with international CSR standards.

"What used to be a peaceful and abundant life for us has now disappeared due to the construction of the airport", says Shirley Masurca, spokesperson for a local fishers' group. "And because the dredging activities are taking place right in our common fishing grounds, our catch of fish and crabs has declined." While Boskalis has now clearly pledged to create a few hundred hectares of new wetlands to compensate for the destruction of the existing wetlands, ecologists have expressed many reservations about this plan. "You can't simply recreate such complex ecosystems, and the wading birds will be the victims," says Maartje Hilterman of IUCN NL.

Atradius DSB has only made one short visit to the project area. "We were only told of the visit one week in advance, meaning that a number of experts with crucial knowledge of the impact of the project could not make it to attend the talks on time," says Leon Dulce of the Philippine environmental network Kalikasan PNE.

Questions in parliament

Philippine and Dutch environmental and human rights organisations sent letters to Boskalis, Atradius DSB and the Ministries of Finance and Foreign Affairs as early as the summer of 2021 to express their concerns about the Netherlands' part in the project. An urgent letter was also sent to state secretary Van Rij in March 2022. And in August 2021 and March 2022, the PvdD (Party for the Animals) also raised questions in parliament about the Netherlands' involvement in the project.

This press release is endorsed by:

AKAP KA Manilla Bay, AGHAM Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, Both ENDS, CARE Netherlands, Center for Environmental Concerns Philippines, IUCN NL, Kalikasan PNE, Oceana Philippines, People's NICHE, Union of Fisherfolk and Residents of Bulacan.

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