Bulacan airport project sued over environment issues; SMC vows to address concerns

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San Miguel Corporation said it has begun a project to plant thousands of mangroves in a coastal area in Hagonoy, Bulacan. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 15) — A marine conservation group filed a writ of kalikasan case on Tuesday, saying San Miguel Corporation's ₱734-billion airport project in Bulacan will affect Manila Bay's marine life and migratory bird population.

Oceana Philippines went to the Supreme Court to file the petition that was signed by its vice president Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Bulakan town fishermen Rodel Alvarez and Teodoro Bacon, as well as labor group Aniban ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (AMA) and San Jose del Monte Archbishop Roger Martinez.

A writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy available to any person who feels that their constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology has been violated or could be violated.

The petition enumerated the multiple dangers of building the 2,500-hectare airport city. It was waged against San Miguel Aerocity, Inc., its contractor Silvertides Holdings Corp. and the Departments of Transportation, and Environment and Natural Resources.

One of the main concerns cited was the project's adverse effects on Manila Bay's biological diversity. The bay serves as a habitat for marine life, especially for sardines, said Jun Viterbo, Oceana's defense counsel. It is also home to crustaceans and shrimp which makes it a lucrative fishing point for residents. AMA Chairperson Renato dela Cruz said the airport will trample 18 species of marine animals if it pushes through.

"It's not a dead area for fish," said Viterbo in a press briefing. "It's actually a very very profitable area."

Thousands of birds also often flock to the bay as part of its migration route, according to Mike Lu, president of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines.

Lu, who mentioned that his group has worked with environment officials for bird sightings, pointed out that everyday, around 25,000 birds visit Barangay Bambang, by the airport site. The presence of planes in the area could also increase the number of bird strikes, or accidents where birds collide with airplane engines.

SMC's airport project, which was proposed to decongest the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, is expected to feature four parallel runways and a world-class terminal, among other things, and can accommodate up to 100 million passengers annually.

SMC's response

SMC President and COO Ramon Ang said the company will address the issues in the petition once they get a copy of it. He maintained, however, that they have already taken steps to ensure the project will be built sustainably.

These initiatives include mangrove tree-planting after environment advocates in the past raised that the project will severely impact mangroves in coastal communities that are needed to cushion the effects of storm surges and other disasters.

The company earlier vowed to plant 200,000 mangroves in the province and around Central Luzon, which already began in July

"We have also commissioned a foreign firm to conduct a comprehensive and independent study of all possible environment impacts, to ensure these will be taken into consideration and addressed in the development stage," said Ang in a statement.

SMC also questioned the involvement of petitioners Alvarez and Bacon, claiming that the two informed the company that they were not aware they were cited in the case. It also revealed that Bacon in particular, received financial help from the conglomerate for a new home, with access to water and electricity.

However, in the press conference, Oceana showed a recent video of the two fishermen attesting that they were against SMC's airport project.

"Kaya kami nasama sa kaso na 'to, gusto naming ipaglaban din 'yung aming hanapbuhay na naapektuhan ng proyekto na 'yan," said Bacon in the video. "Sabi nila noong una, pwede pa kami maghanapbuhay dun. Ngayon pinagbabawalan na kami."

[Translation: We joined this case because we want to fight for the source of our livelihood that was affected by that project. They said at first we could still work there, but now we are being prevented from doing so.]

CNN Philippines Digital Producer Janine Peralta contributed to this report.