By Bernadette D. Nicolas, April 8 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to Business Mirror

PRESIDENT Duterte may constitute another agency on reclamation, which he said would be managed by people with unquestionable character.

He made the announcement in a speech on Saturday night at the 25th National Federation of the Motorcycle Clubs of the Philippines (NFMCP) Annual Convention at the Iloilo Convention Center.

The President had signed in February an executive order (EO) placing the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) under his office in a bid to fast-track the land-reclamation process.

“Ang kinuha ko lang ’yung Reclamation Authority kasi matagal at nag-i-squabble ’yan sila diyan sa pera. Tinanggal ko. Nilagay ko sa opisina pero hindi gumagalaw. Wala akong [I only got the Reclamation Authority because it was slow and it had long been wracked by squabbles arising from money. I took it out. I placed it under my office, but it has not been moving. I have no… I never act on it,” Duterte said.

He continued: “I would maybe constitute another agency [manned by] people with unquestionable character so that it would be clean.”

It is not yet clear what would happen to the PRA.

The earlier issuance of the EO on the transfer of PRA came amid the pending land-reclamation projects in Manila Bay, now also the subject of a massive rehabilitationb program led by the national government.

Critics have pointed out that the Manila Bay rehabilitation is a prelude to clearing the way for pending reclamation projects.

Under Executive Order 74, the PRA was placed “under the direct control and supervision” of the OP, while the power of the President to approve all reclamation projects shall be delegated to the PRA Governing Board.

The EO added: “Such delegation, however, shall not be construed as diminishing the President’s authority to modify, amend or nullify the action of the PRA Governing Board.”

The PRA was previously with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

While Malacañang defended the EO as a means to streamline the services of government agencies, the Palace was also quick to dismiss that the EO was meant to favor anyone or any group.

‘Suspend bay rehab’

The Makabayan bloc has already filed a resolution urging the government to suspend the Manila Bay rehabilitation program, saying this could be a prelude to the 43 reclamation projects covering more than 32,000 hectares in the bay under the President’s “Build, Build, Build” program.

According to the lawmakers, the 265-hectare Pasay Harbor City joint venture involving Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy is included in the list of reclamation projects.

Uy was one of the main campaign contributors of President Duterte.

The EO also applies to all reclamation projects, including those initiated by local government units and all other agencies, government-owned and -controlled corporations or any government entity allowed under existing laws to reclaim land, for which there are no contracts or agreements yet executed between the government entity concerned and a private-sector proponent prior to the effectivity of the said EO.

In November, it was reported that Manila Mayor Joseph E. Estrada and Pasay City Mayor Antonino Calixto signed a memorandum of agreement to pursue together with “utmost effort to cooperate with each other and extend mutual assistance” to their separate partnerships with private groups to reclaim huge swathes of the Manila Bay to develop a valuable coastal real estate, as well as generate employment and other economic opportunities in the two premier coastal cities in Metro Manila.

Meanwhile, the Palace EO stated that pursuant to its mandate to integrate, direct and coordinate all reclamation projects for and on behalf of the national government, the PRA is also “mandated to seek advisory opinions from relevant national government agencies on any proposed reclamation project.”

These agencies include the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), the DENR and the Department of Finance. The Neda Board approved reclamation projects prior to the issuance of the EO.

No reclamation project shall also be approved by the PRA without the required Area Clearance and Environmental Compliance Certificate to be issued by the DENR.

All reclamation projects shall also undergo competitive public bidding and shall be evaluated by PRA based on their cumulative impacts rather than on a specific project basis.

The PRA governing board is also enjoined to allot at least 5 percent of its net earnings to develop its capability and expertise to reclaim land, including the modernization of its dredging and reclamation technologies.

The PRA shall also craft and implement a five-year development plan to transform PRA into a premier reclamation authority.