Inquirer Central Luzon
OBANDO, Bulacan – To Mercy Dolorito, floods are a normal occurrence in this coastal town. So it is in her village of Salambao, which faces Manila Bay, whenever typhoons come around or tides rise.
“Floods usually reach up to knee or hips at the town center. In Salambao, it’s a foot high or less. But the floods take a day to recede,” said Dolorito, 57, a former village chief.
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau classified Salambao and the village across it, Binuangan, as having “high susceptibility to flooding.”
This does not surprise resident Ligaya Manalaysay, 67, because their villages are built on earth dikes or on remnants of what she remembers to be a mangrove forest.
When Typhoons “Pedring” and “Quiel” barreled through Central Luzon in 2011, floodwaters rose up to 4 feet. A billboard the town government put up at the San Pascual de Baylon parish tells the extent of the damage.
The typhoons, it said, flooded all 11 villages in the town, affected 65,245 residents and forced 13,109 of them to evacuate as waves destroyed 896 houses and damaged 1,823 others.
Dolorito said it was also her first time to see a habagat (southwest monsoon) spawn floods, referring to the rains on August 6 to 8 this year.
Asked why flooding has worsened, she said: “The weather is changing.”
But some answers lie a kilometer south of Salambao.
Obando, with an area of 52 square kilometers, is left with only less than 5-km strip of mangroves, a set of 18 photographs taken between July 2001 and July 2012 shows.
There are no government data on the extent of mangrove cover in Salambao, but the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), in a report to the United Nations Environment Program and Global Environment Facility in 2005, said those that remain on Manila Bay are “relics.”
Four pictures show mangroves look like a defense line between Salambao and Manila Bay.
More than that, wetlands, which include mangroves, “play a vital role in climate change adaptation and mitigation,” the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau said in the report.
A study shows that the last standing mangroves of Salambao filter the Meycauayan-Marilao-Obando River System (MMROS).
But mangroves covering about 3.5 hectares here were illegally cut, photographs show.
“According to the (Ecoshield Development Corp. or EDC), the trees were cut by charcoal makers in the area. However, according to the complainant (Teresa Bondoc), the trees were cut by the proponent,” said a DENR report on its June 15, 2011 investigation.
EDC, chaired by former Ambassador Antonio Cabangon Chua, is building a 44-ha landfill in Salambao. The environmental compliance certificate (ECC) issued to the project allows it to make way for two sets of barge docking area.
Mark Chernaik, staff scientist at the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (e-Law), has established, through a Google Earth image that mangroves stand on EDC’s three properties that consisted of 44 ha.
By the time that Bondoc and the Concerned Citizens of Obando (CCO) went to the Supreme Court on Oct. 24 last year to ask for a Writ of Kalikasan and a temporary environmental protection order (Tepo) against the landfill, the group said “a large swath of mangrove areas has been destroyed, with the DENR relying on its vaunted inefficiency to excuse itself from identifying the culprits.”
Mangroves, by law, are part of the public domain. Many ended up in private hands through payments of real estate tax to local governments. In this case, the Siochi family sold the property to EDC, with its two family members joining the firm as incorporators, documents show.
But Rafael Tecson, EDC vice president and general manager, said the denuded mangroves “were not in the properties of EDC.”
“Those are not within the 44 ha [of EDC],” he said, noting that area was already cleared of mangroves when the company bought the land in 2009.
“We learned that farmers cut mangroves here for charcoal,” Tecson said.
Since that part was cleared, he said EDC applied for a right-of-way permit to dredge the docking area. The DENR, in September last year, gave EDC a right-of-way permit for the barge docking area and allowed it to earth ball 280 trees, requiring these to be replaced with 30 seedlings each.
It gave the permits “considering the importance of the sanitary landfill project to address the solid waste problem of Obando.”
Six pictures show that as early as March 2011, heavy equipment have been dredging a canal on the denuded portion.
By this time, the town council and Mayor Orencio Gabriel had allowed the construction of a landfill and the reclassification of EDC lands from agricultural to commercial and industrial.
The regional Environmental Management Bureau gave the project an ECC on Dec. 22, 2010.
Tecson said the earth-moving equipment in the March photos were not EDC’s.
“We began working at the site only in October after we got our permit to earth ball mangroves and to build,” he said.
Among 18 pictures, EDC verified as accurate only those that were dated Feb. 17, 2012, and onwards. Pictures taken on July 11, 2012 show that EDC had completed the barge docking area.
When the Philippine Daily Inquirer checked the site on July 25, garbage strangled the mangroves on the northernmost side of the site. Washed in by waves, the mounds of trash require 20 people working every month for the cleanup, Tecson said.
A thick row of newly planted mangroves surround a dike that, Tecson said, would be 4 meters above the high tide level.
EDC maintains a mangrove nursery where, it said, it had grown 300,000 seedlings to replace the 280 trees that were earth balled.
Still no culprits
Two investigations by DENR agencies on April 14 and June 15 last year did not help to identify people behind the mangrove cutting.
“Although there was evidence of mangrove cutting, the undersigned could not determine who instigated the cutting,” said a report by Emelita Aguinaldo, executive director of the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC).
It had taken the Supreme Court three months to issue a Writ of Kalikasan in February. But the Court of Appeals, which is hearing the case, has yet to issue a temporary environment protection order that will stop the project.
(To be continued)
See 9/14 PDI Article: Landfill site unused as one more is built
(Re-post from PDI, Inquirer Central Luzon section)
Filed Under: News
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