Tree and birds in water

CSOs call upon Dutch government not to support destructive land reclamation in Manila Bay

IUCN NL, together with nine other parties has expressed concern on the development of a new airport off the coast in Manila Bay, Philippines, where the Dutch company Royal Boskalis Westminster has been contracted for the land development. In a joint letter of concern, different organisations and stakeholders describe the alarming situation around this contested airport that will be built on newly reclaimed land.

Header photo: black headed gull and whiskered tern in pampanga river ©️ Adrian Constantino

The project threatens to deprive the residents of the area of their homes and livelihoods and will destroy a wetland of international importance. The ten undersigned parties ask the involved Dutch Ministries to take this alarming situation at heart and not give out an export credit insurance to Boskalis for this project.

Displacement without consent

In the preparation for the new airport, the proponent, San Miguel Aerocity Inc. has cleared the area of its inhabitants. Residents were offered compensation by the proponent if they would self-demolish their homes. However, there is no official relocation plan and a large portion of the residents that voluntarily relocated have been pressured by the military to self-destruct their homes and move out. At the latest, only 6 families remained in the area that refused to leave but have eventually been pressured out as well.

Wetland of international importance

The proposed site for the new airport lies within an area with high waterbird congregations. Manila Bay is part of the East Asian Australasian Flyway and of high importance to migratory birds. A recent census showed an alarming 20% decline in waterbirds since an earlier survey in 2017. Also, the project site hosted 17 hectares of mangrove forest. Mangroves are among the most threatened habitats worldwide, and they are crucial for coastal ecology, fisheries as well as the integrity of coastlines, especially in view of rising sea levels. As of today, a large portion of the mangroves has already been cleared from the project area in preparation for the planned land reclamation.

Call to action for all Dutch actors involved

In a series of letters of concern to all involved Dutch parties, the CSOs ask them to follow the recommendations from the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Masterplan (MBSDMP) concerning the location and development of this land reclamation. The MBSDMP, funded by the Netherlands government clearly states that the new airport should not be built at the proposed location, which falls within a strict protection zone designated as a buffer zone for floods and typhoons. The Dutch government, as funder of the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Masterplan should support the recommendations from that plan.

The project of Boskalis for the land development has been submitted to Atradius Dutch State Business with the request for an export credit insurance. We strongly urge Atradius and the responsible ministries of Foreign Affairs and Finance to not give out this insurance, because the project is tainted with violations of human rights and environmental standards.

We ask Boskalis how the actions they are taking to prevent the negative impacts of the project can be strengthened by the work already done in the framework of the MBSDMP and by using the knowledge and activities of local and Dutch civil society involved in the area of intervention.

The extensive involvement of the different actors from the Dutch water sector in such a questionable project does not only cause irreversible social and environmental damage to its surroundings, but also risks putting the Netherlands’ leading position in international water governance at stake.

Maartje Hilterman

Project Leader – Forests for a Just Future

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