Bulacan Airport: Cataclysm Right Before Our Eyes

 
Massive flooding in areas of Bulacan surrounding the proposed Aeropolis. This is not complete, and does not include affected areas in Pampanga province.
 

by Adolfo Quizon Paglinawan

 

Part One: How Mother Nature Punishes our Negligence and Corruption

(NOTE: This Aide Memoire to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources constitutes Chapter 16, page 172 of my latest book The Poverty of Power released last November 2022. To buy book, text 0917-336-4366.)

 

On July 31, 2019, I wrote an aide memoire to Secretary Roy Cimatu of the Depatment of Environment and Natural Resources, bringing to his attention the construction of the Bulacan Airport and proposing an alternative.

I held him accountable to his word during the year’s pre-SONA statement wherein he said in the vernacular, “Sisiguruhin natin na walang pamilyang Pilipino ang nasa peligro sa panahon ng kalamidad.” (We will ensure that no Filipino family will be placed under danger in the event of a calamity”)

“As a way forward, the Duterte administration will continue to pursue policy reforms that integrate climate and disaster risk considerations into development policies, strategies, plans and programs,” he added.

I do not know if his dispensation intended it as an exception, but I begged to disagree in that the Environmental Clearance Certificate approved and issued last June 14, 2019 by Ms. Lormelyn Claudio, her director in Central Luzon, to Silvertides Holdings and/or San Miguel Corporation for the construction of the Bulacan Airport and Aerotropolis, is inconsistent with integrating disaster risk considerations in development.

On the contrary, I argued that that this project is a disaster in the making, and has far-reaching adverse consequences beyond the province of Bulacan that will surely affect the neighboring Pampanga, Bataan and Metro Manila.

As such, that the project is not only against public interest and safety but engenders a clear, present and perpetual danger to thousands of innocent communities in Regions 3 and Mega Manila..

I also said that because of the ECC, your regional environmental impact assessment review committee and your department can already be charged before the Ombudsman’s office for violation of the Republic Act 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

 

Own Impact Assessment says so

The first proof is in the very admission of Philkairos, Inc, which conducted the environmental impact assessment for Silvertides, contractor of San Miguel Holdings the developer of the proposed Bulacan Airport,

“the site is situated on a low ground and is flood prone.”

Accordingly, the group has recommended building drainage canals during land development to mitigate flooding.

It is patently obvious that the concern of Ms. Claudio and her committee was limited to Silvertides only observing mitigating measures to address matters directly related to construction such as dust dispersion during the development, and disposition of the construction spoils, debris and hazardous waste.

I asserted that Ms. Claudio and her committee were obviously ignorant of the potential environmental and social volcano they are sitting on in terms of just the single issue of massive and aggravated flooding the construction of the Aerotropolis will induce.

I asked why they were not on their toes, when potential micro geohazards could cause imminent disasters?

In a forum, the DENR spokesman, Undersecretary Benny Antiporda, resorted verbal engineering instead of confronting the basic issues, when he said:

“It is not a reclamation project, but land development.”

The doublespeak is insulting. I immediately surfed the internet for the Black Law Dictionary, and guess what I found? The pertinent definition is: reclamation means “Land development: Conversion of unusable land into valuable real estate.”

In short, San Miguel Corporation Infrastructure project in Bulacan is nothing but a real estate project, with an airport and and ecozone/freeport as icing on the cake!

(As this book is being submitted to the press, President Bongbong Marcos vetoed HB7575 converting the adjacent feature of an ecozone/freeport to the Bulacan aerocity.)

Mr. Antiporda appealed not to put political color into the discussion, so with all due respects, I replied,

 “Sir, I represent no political interests in this issue. My single concern is the dangerous flooding that would be caused by the land fill that Silvertides will dump into 1,168 hectares for the airport and 2,500 hectares for the aeropolis or city complex, or a total of 3,668 hectares.”

What is political about that?

Call it by whatever name – reclamation, land development, reclassification or rehabilitation, it will still involve humungous amount of land fill.

Mr. Antiporda said the DENR Central Luzon Regional Office assured him that the area to be developed under the project involves private fishponds.

So what if they were private? Ninety-five percent of fish ponds structure impounds water, and when you cover that with land fill where would displaced water go but to the public areas.

 

Realities on the Ground

Even without this monumental land fill, today the environment in the two regions that would be directly aggravated by this project, is already challenged by two climate factors: rainfall and rising tide of Manila Bay.

I have clipped some news references:

On July 17, 2018, here is a report from Pagasa:

“(1) Part of the highway near Lias Road in front of SM City Marilao: Floodwaters reached 16 inches; not passable to light vehicles

“(2) Banga, Meycauayan: Floodwaters 12 inches high; not passable to light vehicles

“(3) Marilao, near Abangan Sur: Flooded but passable to all vehicles

 “(4) San Jose Del Monte: Floodwaters eight inches deep floodwaters; still passable to all vehicles.” (Philippines Daily Inquirer)

 

By August 13, 2018, ito na ang grabeng kinahinatnan ng Meycauayan:

“The town of Meycauayan in Bulacan has been placed under a state of calamity due to floods. According to Dr. Rosaro Gonzales of the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, 18 out of the 26 barangays in town are flooded, with more than 50,000 residents in four evacuation centers.” (ABS-CBN)

As stop-gap measure, the local governments along the Meycauayan River have begun raising the street level by one meter because absence of an integrated approach has left the streets of coastline and riverside Bulacan to be transformed into a network of “creeks”. As a result, I have relatives in Salusoy, Meycauayan who have elevated the first floors of their homes by more than one meter to be able to be higher than the street when floods linger for months.

 

June 22, 2018:

“Based on the latest report of Pampanga Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, a total of 85 villages already experienced flooding. The list includes 25 barangays in Macabebe, 12 in Guagua, five in Apalit, 15 in Masantol, two in Bacolor, 11 in Lubao, one in Candaba, five in San Simon, six in Minalin, two in Sto. Tomas and one in San Luis. These areas were submerged with up to waist-deep of flood water as of yesterday afternoon.” (Sun Star Pampanga)

 

May 2002:

“Flood hazard mapping and vulnerability analyses conducted in eight coastal towns of Bataan are presented. The main criteria used in the selection of the study areas, are their geographical location along the Manila Bay and existence of historical flooding. Thus, the focus of study are the coastal towns namely, Hermosa, Abucay, Balanga, Limay, Samal, Orani, and Pilar. (Pagasa/NDRB Report No.108)

 

The Pampanga River Basin Land Cover Map shows how the different terrain will interact in retaining or dispelling flood deposits, differing from cultivated areas, shrub lands, to built up and forested areas on how to distribute inland water.

 

 
 

Coup D’Grace

 

Yet the most damning argument why Bulacan Airport must be scrapped is the conclusion one arrives at after reading the enclosed scientific environmental impact study:

 

Worsening Floods around Northern Manila Bay, Philippines: Research-Based Analysis from Physical and Social Science Perspectives By K.S. Rodolfo, F.P. Siringan, C.T. Remotigue and C.B. Lamug (2003)

 

Some highlights of the study are:

“Flooding continues to worsen, even during periods of reduced rainfall. Urbanization, as well as rising local sea level are important aggravators.

“Only a worst-case deluge from simultaneous high tides, storm surges and rains will educate the people and bring about proper mitigation.

“Deforestation around erstwhile sources of impounding accelerates the escape of water from the highlands all the way to the bay.

“The deltaic geological profile of the terrain 180 degrees from Pampanga in the west, to Bulacan in the middle to Camanava in the east, cannot hold the water long enough to resupply the water tables, resulting in subsidence, accelerated by heavy extraction of groundwater for fishponds, farms and rapid growing population.

“Water that used to stay in the Pampanga River system have now formed artificial lakes causing flooding around the area of Lubao. This has also pushed some areas in Bataan to also flood, because volcanic sediments from the Pinatubo eruption have raised the river bottoms, and heavily silted its exit at the Pampanga Bay portion of the Manila Bay.”

The coastal plains form thousands of islets like fingers that are so flat and close to the sea level that the 1 meter-elevation extends to 10 to 20 kilometers inland.

On February 6, 2019, Environmental lawyer Tony Oposa said that Manila Bay island-building to sink inland homes, are huge obstacles that would deter President Rody Duterte’s Great Manila Bay Rehab.

Oposa said thirty-eight reclamations totaling 26,234 hectares are planned along almost the entire coastline, hiding behind near-shore schemes of ‘tambak’ or landfilling resulting in virtually island constructions for eventual high-rise buildings.

“The Bay is a nearly enclosed water body,” he adds ‘If islands are piled all over, then water flow all the more would be blocked, and waste and stink kept bayside.’

 

 
 

“The island-building contradicts the Supreme Court order to clean up the Bay, that Oposa and 14 youths fought for starting 1999 – for future generations. Obstructed too is the Executive Order for 178 cities and municipalities, and 5,714 barangays along the Bay and its inland tributaries in Metro Manila, Calabarzon, and Central Luzon to join in.”

The massive reclamation,“defies science” calling attention to K.S. Rodolfo’s sequel to his 2003 paper on “Worsening Floods….”

Why reclamation of nearshore Manila Bay is a very bad idea                                                            By Kevin S. Rodolfo (Star Science, Philippine Star October 3, 2013)

On the geological hazards that threaten existing and proposed reclamations of Manila Bay                                                          By Kevin S. Rodolfo (2014)

The new real estate projects would bring giga-profits to the proponents, but wait the Philippine’s balik-scientist Rodolfo warns that millions of residents in Mega Manila, including Bataan, Pampanga, Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal and Laguna, would be left in misery.

Three disasters loom:

  • Seawater will flood coastal communities.

Due to sea temperature warming, sea levels are rising, especially near the equator. In the Philippines the rate of rise is as much as 14.7 mm a year, or above an adult’s ankle in ten years. At the same time, the Bay area is fast sinking. Unbridled extraction of groundwater is causing the surface to subside.

The rate of subsidence in Greater Manila is about 19.2 mm a year, or deeper than an adult’s mid-leg in ten years. (Rodolfo likens that subsidence to the sinking of California’s San Joaquin Valley by eight meters, or a three-story house, due to groundwater overuse in the 1920s to 1970s.)

Manila Bay coastal plains slope up inland very gently. Ten to 20 km of land from the shore are only one meter above sea level. The combination of rising sea levels and land subsidence would make seawaters advance inland. Large swaths of the Bay area perpetually would be in knee-deep seawater in ten years.

Reclamations, being soft earth, would be susceptible to the combination of rising sea levels and subsidence. They would even hasten and deepen the flooding in other parts of the Bay area, as natural outflows of rivers and high tides would be clogged. Rodolfo cites the experience of Dagat-Dagatan in Navotas, Metro Manila. Starting in the 1970s the government poured billions of pesos for landfill and dikes – all for naught.

 Today, more areas of the city are flooded than before.

2) Storm surges would slash the coastal communities.

Typhoons are becoming stronger than ever due to climate change. Most at risk from storm surges and giant waves are coastal plains that slope up very gradually, like the Manila Bay area. History has shown evidence of typhoon destruction.

Ships have been unchained from anchors and crashed against each other or onto Roxas Boulevard due to strong waves. Reclamations artificially would change the coastal contour, making them prone to storm surges and destructive waves.

3)Liquefaction would sink coastal areas into the water in case of earthquake.

Liquefaction is when loose, saturated soil and sediments lose cohesion and temporarily behave like liquid. That’s what happened when buildings in downtown Dagupan City, beside Lingayen Gulf, sank as deep as one meter from the 1990 Luzon earthquake. Yet the epicenter was one hundred kilometers to the east, near Cabanatuan.

In case the Big One strikes when Greater Manila’s West Valley Fault moves, reclaimed areas could suffer liquefaction. Structures could collapse.

Earth-filling could sink large parts of the heavily populated urbanized province due to hastened seawater rise, land subsidence, storm surges and waves, and earthquake liquefaction.

I do not take these scientific findings without verifying them. Note that I did not totally agree with Kevin Rodolfo in the case of the Bataan Nuclear Plant because I found it less objective. But when it comes to the Bulacan airport, we are one.

 

Kansai Fiasco at Osaka, Japan

Japan’s engineering fiasco at Kansai Airport, built on a reclaimed island off the bay coast of Osaka. More than $20 billion – 40-percent over-budget – was spent to reclaim land from the sea, pave two runways, build the terminals – and trying to outpace the sinking.

Still it sunk, by 11.9 meters, or a four-story building. Ten percent of the cost went to waterproofing alone to save basements. The island continues to sink to this day.

 
5,000 stranded as Typhoon Jebi flash floods Kansai Airport.
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMcnqO3nPIc
 

Pray tell me, how come San Miguel Corporation missed up on the comprehensive research-based analysis of K.S. Rodolfo et al? I wasn’t even doing due diligence yet I found that piece of crucial document just sitting at the Frank X. Lynch Library. 

I later discovered that this same document is available in the internet.

This is the basic document missing in the entire puzzle, or was it deliberately lost? Anyhow now that we can reasonably settle on a basic given topography, lets move to a commonsensical experiment.

In his Annex 4, deal with this detail that Rodolfo exposed: “The document to be discussed at the hearing was called an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) by Technotrix Consultancy Services (2013), which had prepared it on behalf of the project proponent.

“The Table of Contents of the “EIS” provided to the public listed sections on subsidence and liquefaction, but the Figure 1. The Manila Bay sector of the National Reclamation Plan from Philippine Reclamation Authority (2011). actual pages for these sections were missing.

“Also missing were the figures that were supposed to show ground acceleration in soft and medium soils.”

 

To be continued: Next issue – Aeropolis Canal System vs Subsidence and Liquefaction

 

 
<strong>Adolfo Quizon Paglinawan</strong>
Adolfo Quizon Paglinawan

is the anchor of Ang Maestro – the Unfinished Revolution at Radyo Pilipinas1, co-host of Opinyon Ngayon at Golden Nation Network Television, a political analyst, and author of books. His third book, The Poverty of Power will soon be off-the-press. It is a historiography of controversial issues of spanning 36 years leading to the Demise of the Edsa Revolution and the Rise of the Philippine Phoenix. Paglinawan’s past best sellers have been A Problem for Every Solution (2015), a characterization of factors affecting Philippine-China relations, and No Vaccine for a Virus called Racism (2020) a survey of international news attempting to tracing its origins. These important achievements earned for him to be named one of the 2021 international laureates for the Awards for the Promotion of Philippine-China Understanding. Ado, as he called for short, was a former press attaché and spokesman of the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC and the Philippines’ Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York. Facebook

 

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