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Bird strikes used as excuse for reclamation project: group

Sun Star
Wednesday, Sept 12, 2012



A GROUP of bird enthusiasts accused the proponents of the P14-billion reclamation project along the Manila Bay coastline of using the episodes of bird strikes and descent of some 150,000 migratory birds near the airport facility as an excuse to proceed with the reclamation project.

At a press conference, the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines lashed at Philippine Airlines president Ramon Ang, who was quoted in the media as saying the country may never earn an upgrade from the United States Federal Aviation Administration due to the prevalence of birds and the resulting bird strikes near and around the Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

And had said the small mangrove forest beside Coastal Road in Las Piñas, which served as sanctuary to 150,000 migratory birds visiting the country annually, posed a risk to the millions of travelers that fly out of NAIA every year.

"A recent bird strike on a plane landing in Tacloban has been made to appear as if it is in Metro Manila to raise enough of a ruckus and fear-mongering so a property developer could remove a thorn on its back – a critical habitat in Metro Manila reminiscent of the area's original mangrove-lined coasts," said Gina Mapua, vice president of WBC.

WBC is a non-profit organization composed of scientists, businessmen, educators, lawyers and artists who were drawn together by their common interest of promoting bird watching as a hobby and the responsible enjoyment of nature, and to build records of bird observations open for public access.

Mapua belied claims of reclamation proponents that the sanctuary, which is on the traditional flight path of the birds, are in any way related to the reported bird strikes in Manila.

She said the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) and the respondent contractor for the project, Alltech Contractors Inc., are using the issue of migratory birds as an excuse to circumvent Presidential Proclamation (PP) 1412, which provides that "any reclamation in the periphery of the Las Pinas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area shall not impede the ecological function of the lagoon and its small islands' mangroves, salt marshes and tidal areas as breeding, feeding and roosting place for marine and terrestrial wildlife."

PP 1412 also ordered that relevant government departments must maintain a minimum 15 percent of the 1,500 total area of the Bay City (Boulevard 2000) project consisting of existing wildlife habitats and protect their characteristics as such.

The group also pointed out that in removing the sanctuary from its present location, the migratory birds will just scatter the birds and might even lure them nearer to the airport where there are still shallow bodies of water that will naturally attract the birds.

Danish ornithologist Arne Jensen said relocating the bird sanctuary would not be an effective solution to bird strikes, and what the government can do was just to minimize the risks.

Among the solutions he proposes were: 1. establish or expand NAIA Bird Strike Committee to include an independent and skilled ornithologist; 2. Hire a 24-hour mobile bird strike patrol (runway sweeps) to frighten potential birds away before every takeoff or landing within NAIA; 3. Conduct an in-debt study of migratory and resident birds' fly path and fly elevations within NAIA and nearby areas and compare the results with the airlines fly path and elevations so to determine risk areas and recommend adaptive measures.

Lawyer Ipat Luna, a co-convenor of the group, also linked Ang with Alltech, saying they have the same lawyers, Peter Suchianco.

"If you Google their names, you will find that the lawyer of Alltech is also the lawyer of Ramon Ang. You will find out who stands to gain from closing down the sanctuary?" Luna told reporters.

The Poblador Bautista and Reyes law offices in Makati, which represents Alltech Contractors Inc., declined to comment when sought for reaction on the phone.

In a phone interview, lawyer Peter Suchiangco who is the project manager of Alltech, belied allegations of the petitioners, saying the company would not have entered into an agreement with the government if it would be harmful to the environment.

"We are not a fly-by-night company. Pinag-aralan naming mabutiangproyekto [We carefully studied the project], and consulted stakeholders. We followed the DENR rules and we made studies to make sure that the reclamation will not hurt the environment," he said.

Suchiangco, incidentally, is also the consultant in the office of Ramon Ang as president of the food conglomerate San Miguel Corporation.

However, he denied that Ang was at all part of Alltech, but he admitted that they had been talking to several businessmen to invest in the company to shore up their P50-million start-up capital.

This developed as the Court of Appeals deferred its first hearing on the petition filed by former Las Piñas Representative Cynthia Villar and some 300,000 residents of the city against the reclamation project on the ground that they will be stripped of their means of livelihood should the reclamation project push through.

The hearing was reset on October 10 after Alltech failed to bring documents showing that they have complied with the necessary requirements for the project to proceed, such as the environmental compliance certificate issued by the DENR in 2011.

In her petition, Villar said the reclamation will not only pose threats on wildlife but also worsen the flooding problem in Las Piñas, Parañaque and Bacoor area since the natural floodpaths towards the bay would be blocked with the reclamation. (JCV/Sunnex)