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Birds or big business ? - Business Mirror, October 9, 2012

Birds or big business?
Category: Opinion
Published on Tuesday, 09 October 2012 09:50
Written by Ed Javier / Firebrand

OVER the weekend, we had the opportunity to talk to some of the old folks in our hometown of Parañaque.

Aside from the recent political developments in our area, the main topic of our discussion centered on the planned reclamation of hundreds of hectares of coastal waters within the jurisdiction of my hometown and Las Piñas by several business conglomerates.

The area is dubbed as Freedom Islands.

They shared with me some of their sentiments about this project, which has been a major cause for worry among the old-timers in the city.

Their main concern is that floods of biblical proportions would swamp the areas adjoining the “twin cities” once the reclamation of the coastal waters takes effect. At present, some of the poor townspeople in the low-lying Parañaque barangays of Tambo, Don Galo, Santo Niño, La Huerta and San Dionisio already suffer from knee-deep floodwaters from heavy rains.

There is widespread speculation about which group stands to benefit the most from this proposed reclamation project. Tongues are wagging. Who stands to make a fast buck to the tune of hundreds of billions of pesos from this development? I repeat: Billions! That is not a misprint.

Who was the proponent or developer given the right to reclaim the area? Did this project go through the proper bidding procedures?  Was it bidded out by the appropriate government agency or agencies?

This brings to mind the so-called Grandmother of all Scams—the graft- and-corruption-tainted PEA-Amari deal—that reared its ugly head during the term of then-President Fidel V. Ramos.

The deal was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2003. It voided with finality a contract between the PEA and the Amari Coastal  Bay Corp. involving the transfer to the firm of hundreds of hectares  of reclaimed land and submerged lands in Manila Bay.

The SC ruled that the agreement violated the provisions of the Constitution prohibiting the transfer of inalienable lands of the public domain to private companies.

Now, if the SC has decided that this so-called agreement is unconstitutional, why will the present administration under President Noynoy Aquino with its daangmatuwid policy still pursue a similar deal?

Are you telling me that Freedom Islands, which are directly adjacent to the PEA-Amari property, are not subject to the same ruling of the SC?

We do not know if it is true, but we heard PEA has remodeled its plan and used the Parañaque local government as the lead proponent of the project to skirt the SC decision.

We are no legal expert, but we think that if transferring inalienable land is unconstitutional, changing the lead agency whether it is private or the city government makes no difference.
As the saying goes, those who do not learn from the lessons of history are bound to repeat it. It does not help that the whole deal seems to be hidden under a shroud of secrecy.
Without open deliberation and discussion on this issue, speculations abound. For instance, is it true that a powerful, deep-pocketed businessman is allegedly pushing for the project’s implementation?

It stands to reason that the development of the reclaimed area would benefit a major business venture by this tycoon.

My kababayan who recounted this to me chuckled at the flimsy excuse being peddled in the media to justify the feasibility of the Freedom Islands project: Bird strikes!

The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines has declared there is no proof that the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area that contains a large bird sanctuary within the Freedom Islands is connected with the bird strikes in Metro Manila.

They said, “Neither airlines nor airport authorities have given us any information as to species, whether they happened during takeoff or landing, or what time of year, or whether they are migratory or resident birds.”

According to them, several airports around the world co-exist well with sanctuaries and large bird populations close to them, including London’s Heathrow and Bangkok’s new Suvarnabhumi Airport, which are some of the busiest in the world.

Are the bird strikes being used to lift a government regulation that prohibits any impediment to this bird sanctuary? Can’t they offer a better excuse than this old wives’ tale? They should credit the wise, old residents of Parañaque with more intelligence.

We do not want to debate this issue.

What we simply want to bring to the attention of our national government leaders are the valid concerns of my kababayan. There are big businessmen with sinister motives who are salivating over a potential huge prime commercial area.

They are out to acquire this property devoid of transparency and proper accountability. We should be wary and learn from past mistakes, including the PEA-Amari deal. In the end, only a few individuals benefited and most Filipinos were left holding the proverbial empty bag.

The excuse of bird strikes is, to put it simply, one for the birds.