The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines
The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines

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Keep the COAST in COASTAL LAGOON: Do we really need another reclamation project?
A WBCP statement regarding DENR's Environment Management Board's approval of an Environmental Clearance Certificate to reclaim the area beyond the LPPCHEA

Some people just don’t know when to stop.

Development plans of the Philippine Reclamation Authority
that will obliterate the Las Pinas-Paranaque Critical
Habitat & Ecotourism Area

And some people just don’t know a good thing when they have it. And too bad they're in a government agency tasked with protecting that one good thing!

Perhaps you don’t know this place called LPPCHEA, or the Las Pinas Paranaque Coastal Lagoon. If you drive through the Coastal Road going to Cavite from Roxas Blvd. you would have noticed it. Or, if you've had the chance to eat at the old Dampa, you must have seen a patch of green frequented by hundreds, no, thousands of white birds during the cold season. Or you may have bought fish from the "bagsakan." You may have even inhaled the funky smell of rotting fish and wondered why government has not done anything about it.

And if you're one of those people who think this place must be covered up, then, please stop. This message is for you. And it is from everyone else who cares about this place. We hope you will join the increasing number of people who care.

And, if you don't know anything about the Coastal Lagoon, then this is a good time to get to know it, because very soon, it may be wiped out of the coast of Manila Bay.

But not if YOU help us.

In 2007 the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines' 3-year database of bird sightings record proved that Coastal Lagoon hosts more than 5,000 birds during migratory bird season and more than 1% of the global population of Common Greenshank and more than 10% of the global population of Black-winged Stilts. Upon the recommendation of then DENR Secretary Angelo Reyes, the President of the Philippines Gloria Arroyo issued Executive Order 1412 declaring the bird site as the Las Pinas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area.

But of course, it is not entirely out of the goodness of politicians’ hearts that such environmentally enlightened acts occur. In this case, it was a confluence of science, advocacy and timing that brought this about. The decision was timely, and also almost too late, as Metro Manila had long been losing its natural spaces. The coast along Manila Bay had already lost its natural capacity to clean itself due to loss of mangrove stands to reclamation, fishponds and settlements.

The Coastal Lagoon is therefore important, not only for birdwatchers, but to the rest of Metro Manila. As a mangrove wetland, it provides a buffer from storm surges, nurseries for fish and other coastal wildlife, and a permeable surface to absorb and process toxins from both sea and land. And in the past years, it has provided Metro Manilans a delightful break from the incessant assault of concrete wastelands that have become poor substitutes for an authentically uplifting bayside view.

And may we also mention that if we cut the sea's access to the islands that form the Coastal Lagoon, we also destroy the very area that produces the food that the birds eat. The invertebrates, shells and other mollusks will disappear. When developers create another Mall of Asia type of development in the area, we would be destroying a very important "hotel and restaurant" stopover for migratory birds.

While our counterparts in other parts of Asia take care to preserve such wetlands in places such as Mai Po reserve and Hong Kong Wetland Park in Hong Kong, Guandu nature park in Taiwan, Bang Poo in Thailand, our very own DENR and EMB forget their very basic science and agree to dumping over the sea that has created and maintains the habitat in the first place.

If the area is "developed," that is, dumped over and made into another impermeable space, we would be losing the delicate balance that created this unique habitat. We would be answerable to the nations that make up the East Asian Migratory Flyway and undertake the annual Asian Waterbird Census (AWC). The AWC is a yearly activity that DENR itself undertakes, together with the WBCP and simultaneously with nations in the flyway.

It is unfortunate the it is the DENR itself that is undoing the good work that it had done through its NCR office and its very own PAWB. Perhaps it would like to be the laughingstock of the rest of Asia?

This is really possible, as in November 2009, the Department of Tourism included the LPPCHEA as one of the bird watching sites in a book, Birdwatching in the Philippines Volume 1 that was promoted at the World Travel Mart in London and launched at the British Bird Fair and the Taipei International Birdwatching Fair in August and November 2010 respectively.

If the DENR Secretary and EMB, and now the Philippine Reclamation Authority, now armed with an ECC approving the reclamation will not be stopped, tourists will be regaled with a very good view of parking lots and a casino. Not very good for an ecotourism site, right?

As of date, the developers have tried to reassure the WBCP that the birdwatching station will not be touched, and the road they will build over the site will "enhance" the birdwatching experience by providing a viewing area, but they did not mention that obliterating the sea and the noise generated by traffic will severely affect not only the birds, but also the very habitat that nurtures the other flora and fauna that make up the habitat.

Very clearly, they do not know what it is that makes up a critical habitat, and they do not know that the value of the area lies in its being untouched.

Lastly, it may interest the public to know that the area is the site involved in the infamous Amari deal, a dubious agreement that, when discovered, stalled the development of the site, and allowed the area to become the wonderfully hospitable natural habitat it is now.

Perhaps it was a sign that it is to the country's best interest that any further development in the area be stopped. And in a time when measures meant to protect the environment are being overturned by the very institutions mandated to uphold them, it is everyone's duty to put their foot down and say NO TO RECLAMATION AROUND COASTAL LAGOON.