By Jocelyn R. Uy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
BIRD PARADISE. Environmentalists fear
that a P14-billion
reclamation project will destroy the Las Piñas-Parañaque
Coastal Lagoon, a critical 175-hectare habitat for migratory
birds in Metro Manila. GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE
MANILA, Philippines—To conservationists,
a P14-billion reclamation project and a 175-hectare rare bird
sanctuary in Metro Manila may coexist if proponents of the
plan agree on a compromise: a channel and a bridge.
Environmentalists and bird watchers have expressed fears
that the government’s plan to reclaim 635 ha so close
to the lagoon, which serves as a thriving haven for endangered
feathered transients, may imperil the precious bird habitat.
“But there’s still hope for a realignment and
reconfiguration of the planned reclamation,” Rey Aguinaldo,
project manager of the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical
Habitat Ecotourism Area, said as he toured reporters around
the sanctuary on Tuesday.
The council overseeing the welfare of the lagoon has recommended
that the reclamation project give way to a waterway between
the upcoming development and the bird sanctuary so as not
to cut off the latter from Manila Bay, Aguinaldo said.
He noted that the environmental compliance certificate the
Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had
issued to the project provided that its proponents follow
the recommendations of the council.
“The council is recommending that there must be a channel
between the reclamation area and this sanctuary to allow water
from Manila Bay to flow so that this sanctuary will not die,”
Aguinaldo told the Inquirer during the tour.
A bridge can be built for crossing the channel “and
that won’t cost them that much,” he added.
If the proponents are wary that a waterway will shrink the
project area, Aguinaldo said “they could add up again
“The area that will be occupied by the channel can
be compensated on the other side just to save this [sanctuary],”
The certificate, which the DENR issued on March 24, also
stipulated that before implementation, the proponents shall
coordinate with the council and the Protected Areas and Wildlife
Bureau in tackling the impact of the project on the critical
The proponents have also been required to align their environmental
management plans with the Manila Bay Coastal Strategy and
submit a revised plan within 60 days, Aguinaldo said later
in a press conference.
The DENR chairs the Manila Bay Critical Habitat Management
Council, whose members include the Department of Tourism and
the Las Piñas and Parañaque governments. The
Philippine Reclamation Authority, proponent of the P14-billion
project, is vice chair of the council.
The council is set to meet Wednesday to thresh out issues
surrounding the reclamation project, said Aguinaldo, a US-trained
According to the current project design, a new business center
in the sprawling 635 ha will stand adjacent to the critical
habitat, which has been touted as the “last coastal
frontier of its kind” in the metropolis.
A highway will also cut through the mangroves to link the
new business center with the rest of Metro Manila.
“I told them that if they push through with the current
design, it will cause an uproar not only among local groups
but also among international organizations,” Aguinaldo
said, noting that the area was more popular abroad as it attracted
foreign bird watchers and eco-tourists.
“I said, ‘Let’s talk’ as there is
still a chance to reconfigure … because this area is
not for us, it is our legacy to the next generation [and]
we have to preserve something for them to see,” he said.
Stopover for rare birds
The critical habitat, composed of 114 ha of mud flats and
30 ha of mangroves, is home to endangered Philippine ducks
and a stopover for Chinese egrets, pied avocets and other
Fifty-one migratory species visit the area from July to May
as part of the East Asian-Australian flyway.
Between 5,000 and 7,000 birds can be seen in the lagoon in
a day, according to Michael Lu, head of the Wild Bird Club
of the Philippines.
Lu and other bird watchers were among those who accompanied
reporters to a tour in the sanctuary, which occupies what
local residents call “Freedom Island.”
The tour was hosted by the tourism department which promotes
the area as a potential ecotourism destination in Metro Manila.
Tourism Undersecretary Ma. Victoria Jasmin said the department
had included the critical habitat in its national tourism
development plan as one of the major tour destinations in
“We would like to [preserve this] for ecotourism purposes
because there’s also another niche of tourists—the
environmentalists and adventure tourists,” Jasmin said.
“So whatever outcome the issue is going to have, we
are very much concerned,” she added.
Keeps birds away from Naia
Contrary to fears of bird strikes expressed by pilots and
airport authorities, a mangrove in the midst of a major airplane
flight route is actually vital in keeping birds away from
the airport and crossing the flight path, Lu said.
“You need this sanctuary as a magnet to attract birds
… if you take away the sanctuary, the only area left
open will be the airport and then there will be more birds
there because everything is residential,” he said, citing
US-based airport bird controllers who are members of the club.
Aguinaldo added that since Manila Bay was flanked by other
important bird areas, birds would naturally cross from Manila
Bay to Laguna de Bay.
The mangrove serves as an important stopover for these birds
to keep them away from the airport’s flight path, he