What Could Go Right With Manila Bay Reclamation

One thing that could go right for Manila Bay Reclamation is that it could pave the way for a new start, without the burden and limitations of a once glorious past that will never be reclaimed.

Manila Solar City sustainable city renewable technologiesReclamation is actually a part of a plan for Manila’s growth that was started by the Americans when they reclaimed part of Manila Bay to construct Roxas Boulevard.  Reclamation was later undertaken by the Marcos Regime, under which the Public Estates Authority was created by virtue of the establishment of the  Public Estates Authority or PEA through Presidential Decree No. 1084.

PEA was created to provide a coordinated, economical and efficient administration of lands, especially reclaimed lands, belonging to, managed and/or operated by the government, with the object of maximizing their utilization and hastening their development consistent with the public interest.

Years after Marcos was ousted, President Fidel Valdez Ramos came up with the Manila Bay Master Development Plan in 1995 which was embroiled in a still unresolved controversy alleging that officials had been bribed into favoring Amari Coastal Bay Resources and Filinvest Development.

Then again, in 2007, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo issued Executive Order (EO) 629 which calls for the “conversion of Sangley Point, cavite city into an international logistics hub with modern seaport and airport through an enabling reclamation component.”

Perhaps because the urban planners and technocrats of the present Aquino administration could not ignore the inevitable necessity of reclamation, it put out Philippine Reclamation Authority Resolution 4161(Approval of the National Reclamation Plan) on February 25, 2011.

The Americans, Marcos, Ramos, Arroyo and now the second Aquino Administration all see the inevitable necessity and consequent benefits of reclamation.

World renowned urban planner and architect Felino Palafox argues for the benefits of reclamation:

“…there are also many advantages if planned, designed, engineered, and implemented properly in the right place, at the right time, at the right land-use density and type of development. In Europe, they call water reclamation Corniche.”

Palafox added that “Roxas Boulevard (lies on) reclaimed land, and the development, I think, stretched from Taft Avenue to Manila Bay.”

He cited other examples from around the world. Singapore reclaimed over 6,000 hectares to enlarge the island from the original 65,000 hectares to 71,000 hectares. Two-thirds of The Netherlands is reclaimed, yet there is no flooding. Dubai originally had only 70 km of waterfront. The government reclaimed the Palm Islands to add 2,000 km more of waterfront.

manila solar city low carbon footprint cityAt this point, I don’t think a lot of people will disagree that Manila is just too messed up to be restored to the city that it was once before World War II saw it reduced into rubble.

Even now, there are a growing number of signs that the underlying infrastructures that makes it possible to live, work, and study in Manila are giving out.  I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it written in columns or articles by experts that Manila’s capacity and design has been exceeded several times over.

In terms of population density, Manila tops the list of the cities with the highest population densities with over 43,000 people per square kilometer — with its sixth district having over 68,000 people per square kilometer.  Manila’s sixth district is comprised of Paco, Pandacan, San Miguel, Santa Ana, and Santa Mesa.

What isn’t helping Manila in terms of population densification is that, apart from still harboring a large number of informal settlers, the city’s administration has allowed its vertical expansion — the construction of high rise buildings — to run rampant.

Ten of the tallest buildings in Metro Manila can be found in the City of Manila with Eton Bay Park (Roxas Boulevard) at 30 storeys and Golden Empire Tower (Roxas Boulevard) at 57 storeys.  Of course, there are a lot more high rise buildings that have risen in Manila in recent years and all of them combined have had an impact on the demand placed on the city’s infrastructure — roads, drainage, water supply, power, food, pollution, waste generation, etcetera.

Apart from densification, vertical expansion also has an impact on ground subsidence and flooding.

Dr. Kevin Rodolfo whose studies on ground subsidence in Metro Manila pointed out that the high volume of water extraction was to  blame for the alarming rate at which certain portions of Manila were sinking.  Rodolfo theorized that the high volume of water extraction could be attributed to water refilling stations and water pumps in Manila without offering data from an actual study of the rate of water extraction from such activities.

Perhaps, what Rodolfo didn’t look into was the amount of ground water displaced in the large scale excavation done for the construction of the basements and foundations of buildings in Manila.  Also, perhaps, Rodolfo could have also looked into the possibility that the weight of high rise buildings could be pressing out ground water or covering up fissures/natural ground water sinks.

The rapid and deep excavation for multi-storey basements and foundations alone could displace thousands of cubic meters of ground water within a few months and could contribute in a large way to ground subsidence, making it more vulnerable to flooding.  Even more, the fact that buildings actually cover up natural fissures that act as surface water sinks and causes more rain water to stay above ground, creating floods.

Again, Palafox cites reclamation could be the answer to flooding as well as act as a barrier to tsunamis and storm surges:

In a statement sent by e-mail, Palafox said reclamation could “do the country a lot of good if done properly.”

“Reclamation, if done properly, is the solution to flooding in Metro Manila. It is the solution to tsunamis, the solution to storm surges, solution to (producing) additional prime land,” said Palafox in the presentation he made for the conference.

While some have claimed that reclamation has caused negative environmental impact such as flooding, Palafox said inefficient waste disposal and the absence of flood-mitigating infrastructure were the primary causes of floods in urban areas.

There is a theory that if this vertical expansion continues, the problems created by increased population densification will increase exponentially and come to a point wherein the City of Manila will be almost completely unlivable — but that’s stating it a bit too dramatically.

Sure, there are some quick solutions.

For instance, the truck ban and modified bus ban implemented by former President now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada somewhat eased up traffic in the city, but that’s only going to work for a time until freighting and transport companies find a way around it or until smaller vehicles start using up the freed up capacity of Manila’s roads.

However, the better and longer term solution would be to substantially change how Manila’s urban space is utilized and one key to doing this is to create a completely new space designed not only to relieve some of the pressures on Manila’s infrastructure, but also engineered with built in solutions to the challenges of climate change.

One thing about the City of Manila, or Metro Manila for that matter, is that it is chaotic and this was outlined as one of the main challenges for urban planning in 2012 by the Urban Land Institute.

Imagine Metro Manila as a humongous stock room filled with millions upon millions of boxes randomly arranged. Now imagine what amount of effort it must take to rearrange all these boxes into a certain pattern. Still imagine the added difficulty when you realize that the big room is getting even bigger, and more boxes are being added.

This is the prospect facing property experts, top developers and urban planning experts when they were recently gathered by global nonprofit education and research hub Urban Land Institute.

Also in 2012, Philippine Star columnist and architect Paulo Alcazaren gave a talk at the Ateneo de Manila on Metro Manila’s Urban Chaoes which underscored the fact that, although there have been 10 or 13 plans for Metro Manila, the lack of public funding for its complete implementation and lack of political will to make developers follow some semblance of a rational plan for urbanization inevitably created the chaotic conditions that we are living with today.

One thing that stands out in Alcazaren’s talk on urban chaos is the crucial role that private investors and developers played in realizing urban plans laid out by government.  Alcazaren cited the Ayalas who built much of Makati’s central business district (CBD) as an example — and come to think of it, he might as well have pointed out the Bonifacio Global District too.

Both the Makati CBD  back then and BGC today represent are urban plans that were designed to meet present and emerging challenges to development.

The thing is, present detractors of reclamation in Manila bay point out that private investors and developers are the only ones who are going to benefit from reclamation.  However, it would be fool hardy for them to deny that the realization of the urban plan for Makati’s CBD and the BGC has contributed immensely to the funds of the city and the entire country — funds that have been used for many of the government services that benefit the poor.  And that’s not even counting the jobs created by construction and the jobs created by companies that have located in both areas.

Among those who oppose reclamation is PAMALAKAYA, a leftist leaning fisherfolk group, whose battle against reclamation was pronounced during the PEA-AMARI controversy in 1995.  Their central argument back then and even now is that reclamation will deprive thousands of fishermen of their livelihood, which at its core is an argument against development because it seeks to preserve subsistence living at the expense of higher value employment. Does PAMALAKAYA want the sons and daughters of its members to remain fisherfolk?

(More in Part Two)

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12 Comments on “What Could Go Right With Manila Bay Reclamation”

  1. The great poet john betjeman wrote about the town slough.
    Manila should take heed, and look more to the principles and practices of past architects such as le corbusier to solve the problems. Less is more. Reclamation is certainly not the answer.

    “Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough!
    It isn’t fit for humans now,
    There isn’t grass to graze a cow.
    Swarm over, Death!
    Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
    Those air-conditioned, bright canteens,
    Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
    Tinned minds, tinned breath.
    Mess up the mess they call a town –
    A house for ninety-seven down
    And once a week a half a crown
    For twenty years,
    And get that man with double chin
    Who’ll always cheat and always win,
    Who washes his repulsive skin
    In women’s tears,
    And smash his desk of polished oak
    And smash his hands so used to stroke
    And stop his boring dirty joke
    And make him yell.
    But spare the bald young clerks who add
    The profits of the stinking cad;
    It’s not their fault that they are mad,
    They’ve tasted Hell.
    It’s not their fault they do not know
    The birdsong from the radio,
    It’s not their fault they often go
    To Maidenhead
    And talk of sport and makes of cars
    In various bogus-Tudor bars
    And daren’t look up and see the stars
    But belch instead.
    In labour-saving homes, with care
    Their wives frizz out peroxide hair
    And dry it in synthetic air
    And paint their nails.
    Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough
    To get it ready for the plough.
    The cabbages are coming now;
    The earth exhales.”

  2. Clean up Ermita and Malate. It is a stinking disgrace. Once it is proven that Manila City Hall can handle such a “simple” task with success, then maybe take this idea further. Everything else is utter nonsense.

  3. Easing trafiic is really is not difficult. It is just lacking the will to do it becoz many people will lose their businesses:
    -take out jeepneys and buses with sits, and replace them in all Metromanila with a comprehensive system of buses and bus tops with number and codes, like in almost any other civilized place. This is the most important.
    -increase the number of trains in lrt and mrt, and extend the existing lines.
    -make pedestrian streets and wide sidewalks: Malate and Ermite could be pedestrianized and only then those barrios will get a new life.
    -stop building condos in certain areas, and not allow more than 10 floors, as many places in Europe.
    -create parks: it will increase the value of the buildings aside and it will give a place to spend free time, apart of malls.
    -not allowing the construction of malls in areas that are already congested and demand from mall managements and condo builders that, at least 60% of the land area should be invested in sidewalks, roads, and green areas.
    Oligarchies are happy with the decay of Manila: bad and polluted streets means more people forced to spend their in malls and more people forced to buy apartments in bubble-condos. The street is just a place to skip.

    1. I agree with some of the proposals you’ve made here and believe they’ve actually been taken up. But I guess they have to be drummed into the heads of our city’s planners and administrators because they haven’t sunk in yet.

  4. “Relamation a solution to: flooding, tsunamis, storm surges, etc…” I have never seen a more stupid claim than that…I’m not a leftist, nor rigtist, nor anything else…fllods can only be solved, by a properly designed and implimented flood control system. Manila is a Delta…for those who had studied the Science of Geology. It is below the sea level. Tsunamis? We have not yet the Science to prevent one…Storm surges? Storms and typhoons get their energy from the deep sea ocean. As the temperature of the ocean surrounding us increases, it gives birth to a storm or typhoon. We have not yet the Science/Technology to prevent storms/typhoons. Please know what you are talking about , before you Blog. Some bloggers/readers are very well informed.

    Reclamation is not the solution. Decongestion, Re-planning urban settlement, a good flood control, control of Squatter settlements, are some of the answers. How can these two actors, understand these issues. They both have no technical education…nor brain powers…

    1. “Manila is a Delta…for those who had studied the Science of Geology.”

      This is the proper description of what a delta is:

      Deltas form from deposition of sediment carried by a river as the flow leaves its mouth. Over long periods, this deposition builds the characteristic geographic pattern of a river delta.

      A simpler definition is that it looks the the Greek letter Delta.

      I’d contend that Manila is not located within a delta.

      “It is below the sea level”

      Manila’s elevation is actually 16.0 m

      As for “preventing tsunamis/storm surges”, perhaps what was meant was that it could help prevent the inland incursion of the sea. Although I would hedge that a bit and say that it’ll depend on how high the seawater swells are.

  5. It’s not just the boxes piling up. It’s those folks saying that moving those boxes could damage valuables (of varying actual value) inside.

  6. My mom said once that the Manila Bay segment of the coastline hardly has living organisms anymore – since it’s hardly used, maybe it’s better for part of the land to be reclaimed.

  7. I’m all for this because of the jobs it will create and attraction of tourists but why has everything have to be in Manila? Laguna for example is not that far and there’s ample land there.

  8. Although there are some merits on the concern of those against reclamataion, I would not dismiss also that reclamation as a potential engineering solution to highly urbanised and congested metropolis such as Metro Manila. (Note that I’m not in anyway affiliated to the developers of the proposed reclamation projects). Most of the time, the common theme of the issues of those against the reclamation are as follows: gradual and incremental sinking of Metro Manila, increased risk of storm surges to the coastal areas, and risk to liquefaction on the reclaimed land. I will address these three issues.

    First of, sinking of certain areas of Metro Manila is caused by groundwater drawdown on the aquifers. This was brought about by the lack and equitable water distribution system particularly during the era when MWSS was entirely in-charge of potable water distribution and they were excellent in poorly doing it. Remember the time when the non-revenue water (i.e. water leak) is as high as 70%? With no water coming in to households, people (regardless whether rich or poor) had no choice but to resort to backyard pumped wells (motorised or otherwise) to sustain their daily water needs. With the proliferation of backyard wells all over Metro Manila, particularly to the areas with poor water service (which is, not surprisingly, still the areas with poor water service even after the two water concessionaires have taken over the water distribution), the ground water level on the aquifer are getting deeper and deeper than ever. With the ground water level in the aquifers getting deeper than mean sea level there is a serious issue of seawater ingress in the aquifer which is already being experienced in some parts of Paranaque (but that’s a separate issue to discuss some other time). The groundwater drawdown on aquifers could be mitigated by providing artificial recharging wells which should be part of the infrastructure upgrade of the two water concessionnaires. Thus, reclamation does not in anyway pose as an issue to groundwater drawdown which is the primary cause of Metro Manila subsidence.

    Secondly, on the issue of storm surges. The mitigation measures for storm surge inundations can be provided by a multi-disciplinary coastal engineering in a regional scale that is compatible with maritime traffic which is a vital economic activity in Metro Manila. Unfortunately, coastal engineering is unheard of in the Philippines and I’m
    not even aware of any educational institution providing this program in the country (ironic considering that Philippine coast line when stretched from end to end can circle the globe twice over, and we don’t even have a program for coastal engineering). Reclamation, as a mitigation to storm surges (sometimes called coastal defense) have been successfully used by the Dutch throughout the decades.

    Thirdly, liquefaction, which is a seismic hazard that is quite understood by the civil engineering community particularly the geotechnical engineers and structural engineers, can be addressed by an array of engineering solutions such as soil-densification techniques, piling, etc. Liquefaction phenomena is better understood now by the civil engineering community (unlike 20 years ago pre-1990 Luzon Earthquake) thus reclaimed soils/sites can be engineered to mitigate liquefaction while the structures on top of it to be seismic resistant.

  9. We can never change our culture. jeepneys are part of our daily life and if that part was taken from us..their will be inbalance.we cant really change manila..but we can take it as a lesson that in the new generation mega cities..our government knows what to do..just like Global City Taguig..

  10. What is the government waiting for? After reclamation, they can start on developing it into a place like Dubai or Tokyo or a real grand Manila (this is a long-term goal so they should work on it as early as possible).

    Noting the overpopulation, the government should also begin programs that will slow population rise (limited child policy, prevent teenage pregnancies etc). Then while at it there should be a transfer of residences and workforce from Manila to other key cities. I think it’ll be difficult to develop Manila into something wonderful like those shown in the pictures if it’s too congested. Other than Metro Manila, there should be other industrialized cities that can offer better residences and jobs. Manila should not be the center of everything unless it offers the best of everything. Perhaps when the country is federalized, there will be a focus on every state’s economy. But the country is not yet federalized so I guess it’s really best to make the most of what’s there. What is the government waiting for?

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