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Floods feared from reclamation project in Las Piñas-Parañaque lagoon

By Miko Morelos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
3:45 pm | Sunday, May 29th, 2011

Garbage beached onshore at the
Las Pinas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area

MANILA, Philippines—The Las Piñas-Parañaque Coastal Lagoon—eyed to be reclaimed by authorities—not only serves as a stop for migratory birds but also supports the lives of families in the area who turn to it for livelihood and protection.

The 175-hectare lagoon, which serves as home to endangered Philippine ducks and a whistle-stop for Chinese egrets, was declared a sanctuary area some four years ago by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The present administration ought to recognize it, according to a Parañaque city official and a former Las Piñas representative.

“I hope [the government] will honor the [executive order] that declared the area a sanctuary,” said former Las Piñas Representative Cynthia Villar, whose charity foundation has been spearheading the rehabilitation of the Las Piñas and Zapote Rivers.

“While I am not yet sure if [the reclamation plan] is official, the lagoon is a protected area. There are people who depend on it to earn their keep,” said Parañaque city agriculture officer Fe Ferolino.

For the past years, the Parañaque local government has been keeping close watch of their portion of the lagoon with constant monitoring for illegal activities and periodic planting of mangrove seedlings, according to Ferolino.

“Our objective is to preserve the area, and the [Department of Environment and Natural Resources] helps us by providing mangrove seedlings to be planted there,” she said over the phone.

The national government, through the Philippine Reclamation Authority, plans to reclaim 635 hectares in front of the sanctuary, officially called the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Eco-tourism Area.

Environmentalists oppose the project, saying the lagoon will be cut off from Manila Bay should its surroundings be reclaimed. Mangroves would eventually die due to lack of saltwater, which may lead to the breakdown of the ecosystem there.

Since a large part of the area fell under the city’s jurisdiction, the local government has been patrolling the sanctuary, with deputized environment monitors on the lookout for people who might disturb the natural reserve, Ferolino said.

The waters off the mangrove forests are much clearer now than over a decade ago, Ferolino noted. She credited the improvement to the lush plantation, which likewise has been serving as a breeding ground for various types of fish.

The Parañaque city council passed a resolution regulating fishing activities in the area, allowing only city-accredited fisherfolk to cast their nets in the lagoon.

For residents of Las Piñas, the lagoon serves as an outlet for the city’s two major waterways and ensures that any heavy downpour in the city make its way to the sea quickly and not spilled to the streets, Villar explained to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

If the reclamation project would push through and obstruct the area where the Manila Bay and the rivers meet, she feared it might result into flooding in Las Piñas.

“If the reclamation is done wrongly, we fear it will affect the natural flow of the rivers and water might spill to the city streets during rains,” Villar said.

Villar pointed to the perennial flooding problem of Malabon and Navotas as the basis of her worries. Both cities are among Metro Manila’s flood-prone areas, particularly the locations where reclamation projects were done.

The city’s coffers could earn a lot from the project, Villar conceded, but “if it would make Las Piñas a flood-prone area, the cost of that could surmount any earnings the city would make.”

Should any development push through at the lagoon, Ferolino wants to see the sanctuary turned into a tourist spot.

“Tourism could further generate jobs for our residents there. They can put up sari-sari stores and sell trinkets, while spreading awareness on the importance of the reserve,” Ferolino said. “If you ask me, that’s what I dream the sanctuary ought to be.”

Villar, on the other hand, acknowledged the benefit the Las Piñas residents could derive from the project, but a nagging concern for her is the direct impact of potential flooding to the locals’ quality of life.

“If we impede the natural flow of water, we might have on our hands a flooding problem, and that’s much harder to solve,” she said. “No one wants that. If you ask me, having the lagoon reclaimed is a plan that must be reconsidered.”

Sure, the development is a sign of progress in the area but any improvement must be carefully weighed because “[developments] sometimes destroy areas such as the reserve,” Villar said.

Villar said, “In any progress, people must not suffer from development. Some developments are detrimental.”