Photos by Carmen del Prado
On the afternoon of July 11, concerned citizens from Dumaguete city staged a peaceful rally along Rizal Boulevard, protesting the city’s plans to reclaim 174 hectares of land along the iconic waterfront.
The reclamation project is valued at Php 23 billion, and it aims to develop a smart city over the reclaimed land: a commercial and residential area with malls, condominiums, business hubs, and a docking port for the planned Dumaguete Yacht Club. The project is a public-private partnership led by the city government under Mayor Felipe Antonio Remollo, and construction company E.M. Cuerpo Inc.
The project first came to light in June 2019. In December that year, it was awarded a five-year clearance permit by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
However, many experts have opposed the project, saying it will cause irreparable damage to Dumaguete’s existing marine ecosystems. (Sightings of the rare pygmy blue whale were also reported in this area!)
In a joint statement led by national scientist and former DENR Secretary Dr. Angel Alcala, several local scientists from Silliman University asserted that continuing the project would bury at least 60 percent of the area’s remaining coral reefs, seagrass beds, and deeper soft-sediment ecosystems.
“Losing these marine ecosystems will be nothing short of a monumental ecological disaster,” says Dr. Rene Abesamis, a marine scientist from Silliman University’s Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management.
As one of the few cosmopolitan cities in the Philippines that still enjoys relatively intact marine ecosystems, the waters of Dumaguete also support the livelihood of many local fishermen. It’s also one of the country’s primary diving hubs, attracting thousands of tourists annually.
To protect the city’s ecological heritage, four marine-protected areas (MPAs) have been established by the local government here in the past 20 years, sparking the MPA movement around the Philippines. Within or close to these MPAs, scientists have documented more than 150 coral species, 9 seagrass species, 20 mangrove species, and more than 200 fish, including sharks and rays.
If the project pushes through, more than a hundred hectares’ worth of these MPAs—specifically in the barangays of Bantayan, Lo-oc, Mangnao, and Banilad—will be affected.
“What message is conveyed by the local government if it reneges on its commitment to protect four MPAs, when this idea of empowering ordinary Filipinos to manage their local marine resources has its roots in Dumaguete City, at Silliman University? What message is conveyed by the local government if the project destroys marine ecosystems that residents—who have lost their jobs—rely on for food to survive when there is no end in sight to the pandemic?” adds Rene.
In response, a group of Dumaguete-based youth groups have started a petition on Change.org calling for the local government to halt all its reclamation projects, garnering over 8,000 signatures as of writing. Concerned citizens across the city have also called for more public consultation, and greater transparency from the city government over the project’s motivations.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the rally happened in the morning.