House Bills 3148 and 6559’s proposed coastal “defenses” are direct attacks on coastal communities and environments of Bulacan and Pampanga. These are thinly-veiled development aggression projects that will not only displace and dispossess many Bulacan and Pampanga coastal communities of their homes and livelihood, but will also cause irreversible damage to the remaining coastal and nearshore ecosystems of northern Manila Bay.
Building an expressway from Bulacan to Bataan will not protect communities from flooding simply because it will further constrict the flow of rivers and streams that drain into Manila Bay. The satellite image below shows the extent of flooding caused by Typhoon Lando in 2015. The brown regions stretching from Arayat to the north going down to coastal towns of Bulacan are floodwaters. Normally, unimpeded floodwaters would spread out and recede quickly. Unfortunately in this case, massive fishponds and dikes that were built over the networks of branching rivers and streams constricted the water flow resulting in longer and higher floods in affected areas. Putting more infrastructure on the coast will further obstruct the remaining streams and channels, exacerbating the effects of flooding. We need to let our rivers flow.
Another worrisome consequence is the effect on the remaining mangrove forests in northern Manila Bay. The proposed projects will either destroy mangrove forests, or block its access to seawater. Mangroves thrive in brackish- and seawater; blocking the access to the sea will lead to losses in mangrove cover, ultimately leading to biodiversity loss and decline in fisheries production. Mangroves also serve as natural barriers against storm surges during typhoons. Instead of supporting this bill, the Congress should instead pass laws that will restore wetland ecosystems, such as those that promote coastal greenbelts, instead of legislation that will destroy the environment.
The proponents mentioned climate change and sea level rise as their motivation for writing the bills. But what these bills will do is pave the way for the destruction of thousands of hectares of wetlands and coastal environments, exactly the opposite of what this government should be doing if it is to help avert the climate crisis.
In his explanatory note, Cong. Cruz mentions that “[t]his danger [flooding and sea level rise] is exacerbated by land subsidence caused by excessive groundwater extraction and rapid urban development.” But HB 3148 will neither help manage excessive groundwater extraction nor check rapid urban development. Furthermore, the rapid land subsidence rates in coastal Bulacan and Pampanga, estimated to be at least 3-6 cm/yr in many areas, will likely make any infrastructure project too costly and a waste of taxpayer money.
In HB 6559, Cong. Robes claims that “[w]e cannot stop natural disasters but we can arm ourselves with preparation.” There is no such thing as “natural” disasters. Every disaster is the result of the confluence in time and space of socio-economic and political factors, and hazards, which can be natural or man-made. There is always a human component in each disaster event, and if so there is always something that we can do to prevent disasters. In this case, the proponents can help prevent future disasters if they withdraw HBs 3148 and 6559 and craft ones that are centered on community- and nature-based solutions instead.