An ‘eco-disaster’ waiting to happen
The editorial headline by the Philippine Daily Inquirer on July 22, 2021 said it all. The “monumental eco-disaster” waiting to happen is the P23-billion, 174-hectare reclamation project that the city of Dumaguete plans to build on the entire seafront of this gentle city by the bay.
The project seeks to transform the seaside site into a “‘5G-ready’ mini-city, complete with shopping malls, high rise condominiums, esplanades, and other business establishments.” To do that, the developers will carve 174 hectares of soil inland from Dumaguete to dump into the sea in front of the city.
The project will block the old city from the sea (and vice versa), from the southernmost end of its two-lane seaside boulevard to the northernmost part some 7 kilometers away from where the present city ends.
The 5G mini-city will thus obliterate the lovely view from the sea of the entire seafront with its giant acacia trees, its boulevard, mini hotels, bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, curio stores, open-air night eateries, student promenades, and just plain lazy hangouts from the busy life. It will also block the view from the sea of the 120-year-old beautiful campus of Silliman University, founded in 1901 and now festooned with quaint historic buildings and an 84-hectare mini forest.
Scientists and environmentalists are up in arms and have called on the city government to scrap its plans. As this paper’s editorial pointed out, the project would “impact the local marine ecosystem and the very character of this idyllic capital city of Negros Oriental.”
The director of Silliman University’s Institute of Environmental and Marine Sciences, Dr. Rene Abesamis, warned that : “This is going to be a monumental ecological disaster. It’s going to be this tomb for marine ecosystems.”
The National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) confirms that Dumaguete City has jurisdiction over “four marine protected areas (MPAs)—a total of 104 hectares off Dumaguete—a system of coral reefs, seagrass beds, and soft-sediment ecosystems meant to boost fisheries productivity and conserve marine biodiversity in Central Visayas.” These will be destroyed forever by the reclamation project.
As a former Dumagueteno who lived in this city for a decade and a half, I add my humble voice to the tens of thousands of Dumaguetenos who have voiced their disapproval of this project. It was not so long ago when I was director of the Silliman School of Journalism and Communication for 15 years, from 1967 to 1982. I held office in Guy Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus, built in 1920. My office was one building away from Hibbard Hall, which was reconstructed from the very first structure built on the same spot in 1901. The university spells and smells history.
Our office on the second floor facing the sea was just a long stone’s throw away from the sea. I still remember those idyllic days in the 1970s when, burdened by administration problems and difficult students, I would look out to the blue-green sea outside my window, breathe the fresh air, and see and hear ships blowing their horns (one long sound to signal arrival and two short blasts to say goodbye).
They don’t that do anymore. Progress has come with the noisy pedicabs and cars. But the blue-green sea remains, sometimes stormy but most of the time serene, and we would hate to see the people’s view of it taken away in the name of progress.
That is why we shout with all our might: Don’t build that monument to ecological disaster!
Crispin C. Maslog, former journalist with Agence France-Presse, is the former director of the School of Journalism and Communication, Silliman University, and a retired professor at the College of Development Communication, University of the Philippines Los Baños.
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