Underscoring Waterfront Infrastructure Development Needs

In 2010, I wrote a 4-part series in 4 issues of this magazine entitled “Extended Waterfront Development Needed”, highlighting my own vision of government inability to develop infrastructure to address transport, commercial and tourism needs in the coastal areas. I started dabbling on these after President Fidel V Ramos approved the 25-year rolling master plan that we at PPA proposed in 1994, and in which I required all port and district managers to have a continuing port development input based on projected needs. The Arroyo government’s “Strong Republic Nautical Highway” came from a modified part of that Master Plan.

Each story read or told, each experience and visit I made to various places always drew me to look at infra development and how they help create wealth and improve living conditions.

I related that way back in 1987 I had been thrilled at the way the old Inner Harbor was redeveloped for tourism by the City of Baltimore, but it was only when I visited officially through the auspices of the World Bank in 1994 that the rationale for it was sufficiently explained to me at the Baltimore WTC by the Maryland Ports Authority. I was fascinated with a lot of other examples I saw in the course of my work in ports – New York, Sydney, Melbourne and the Gold Coast (Australia), Oakland (CA); Vera Cruz, Mexico; Charleston (SC); Barcelona and Las Palmas de Canarias in Spain; Tokyo-Yokohama, Kobe (after the earthquake) and Osaka in Japan, London, Copenhagen and a few Denmark-Sweden ferry ports, Oslo and Bergen in Norway; Antwerp in Belgium; Bremen, Bremerhaven and Hamburg in Germany; Rotterdam in The Netherlands (largest in Europe); Singapore; Vancouver (BC, Canada) and Honolulu; and Shanghai (where they have constructed what will probably be the largest port in the world – offshore on an island) in addition to the current large inland port of Shanghai. This was obvious to me when I saw in 2005 its plan at the Shanghai City Planning Center.

In January 2000 we convened in Manila the first International Waterfront Development Forum and Exhibition at the World Trade Center, and as Conference Chair I invited the Chairman of the London Waterfront Development Project (who was unable to attend but nevertheless sent a presentation and video of the project, which was presented by a British Embassy staff), the Japanese Ministry of Transport, and our very own then Mayor Bayani Fernando of Marikina, for his unprecedented riverfront accomplishment in the Philippines. I had the internationally noted Philippine architect Felino “Jun” Palafox Jr present his concept of waterfront development as well.

Our objective was to enhance Philippine waterfront transport and tourism development planning and secondarily to induce developers and investors to come to the Philippines. For instance, a major project that could have been started was the Pacific Coast City proposal of real estate developer Romeo G Roxas, who had commissioned Palafox to make the master plan. Likewise, having seen its tourism potential, I wanted to see if there would be interest in selling Northern Palawan (which I feel could be the playground of Asia in the future) for tourism development. But we were then in the second year of the Asian financial crisis, and thus not one of these dreams was realized. I have even seen the San Antonio, Zambales coastal area as a possible future Philippine Rivera but there are other great tourism sites as well if we could get the LGUs and the national government to “get hot”. I see more areas in Palawan, Camarines Sur, the Visayas and Mindanao as waiting to be noticed (or to be planned for, as they certainly have been noticed).

I still hold that dream of inducing waterfront planning and development for commercial, industrial, residential and tourism purpose as future engines of growth. For this reason, we are including among the 2016 Maritime Forum Achievement Awards to be presented on November 25, 2016 two companies involved in that: The ASEANA Group and the Green Square Properties. The ASEANA City project has been realized but in the case of the Pacific Coast Cities project, the Forum was impressed with the planning and coordination done that it has issued a RESOLUTION in support of it, seeing the impact it could have on development and progress for the country, which has as inspiration the Dubai waterfront and Singapore’s Marina Bay.

In the case of Laguna Lake, a complete development Master Plan must be prepared and implemented in the long range, with participation of all LGUs and concerned government agencies similar to the Boulevard 2000 Project for Manila Bay. Likewise, a determined effort by LGUs must be made to relocate squatters away from riverbanks following the Marikina model, and residences abutting on riverbanks, creeks, drainage canals and lakeshore areas must be inspected and required to have the requisite septic vaults and sewer systems because today these households are clearly disposing their sewer and solid wastes on the waterways.

Before the Jan-Feb 2010 issue of the Review, I mentioned the following recommendations to avert future flooding in Metro Manila and Laguna Lake that were made as a result of a forum involving all players and analysis made by the Crisis Management Institute:

  • Construction of the planned Parañaque Spillway.
  • Develop a total of five sites for environment-friendly shore land development. to serve as transfer sites of dredged materials and for the establishment of wastewater treatment facilities in the reclaimed sites.
  • Reforestation of watershed areas
  • Restrict building infrastructure density in the Marikina Valley
  • Relocate illegal settlers, as well as communities found obstructing the outflow of Laguna Lake water
  • Vigilance against siltation, dumping of garbage on waterways, encroachment of esteros, rivers and other waterways and squatting on riverbanks.
  • Improvement and implementation of the Metro Manila Urban Master Plans.

My statement “These are not easy tasks to follow, and require a lot of political will” still apply equally for this Part III, which I consider a Dream List.

1.  Manila Bay-Cavite Wetlands

We seem to be losing the Cavite wetlands by default, i.e., through the various reclamation proposals and even the Cavite Coastal Road Project. I was not able to sell this idea even in the Boulevard 2000 Project during the Ramos administration (proponents did not want to discuss beyond the scope of the reclamation plan), or to Hong Kong magnate Gordon Wu when he made an ambitious proposal for reclamation from Pasay to Cavite City, including a huge new port and airport.

The Cavite foreshore between Sangley Point and Parañaque had traditionally been a source of livelihood for salt making families and mussel/oyster fishermen. Pollution has practically destroyed both endeavours, and now the reclamations will probably merely extend the seawall all the way to Cavite City and forever destroy the wetlands.

I described how we can allow fresh sea water to come in and out to flush stagnant or polluted water by having controlled floodgates at the Sangley causeway.

2.  Pollution, solid waste and sewage control

I suggested political will to address the sewage and garbage collection systems in the coastal town. Is this now an impossibility, as even after the Supreme Court came out with its Writ of Kalikasan and the Manila Bay Environmental Protection Order, no improvement has been seen?

I suggested immediate consideration of reclamation at Manila Bay with complete development master plan off Bulacan, after having been briefed on the Tokyo “Garbage Island Project” during Waterfront 2000 and suggested we look at the 3.5 square km Semakau Landfill, designed by Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA)of two small islands connected by a rock embankment, started in 1999 and still ongoing. The landfill, which cost around $400 million, can hold up to 63 million cubic meters of rubbish, enough to satisfy Singapore’s waste disposal needs until 2040.

The fourth part of the series dealt with reclamation to replace the Pandacan oil terminal that has been decided already for relocation. Maybe, the national government, if not PPA, should now look into total development of the BASECO compound (Engineering Island) but then again that requires tremendous political will that runs smack against the increased illegal settler in the area, some of whom claim ownership as a result of political accommodation by the Arroyo government.

Its really about time we undertake these and other infrastructure projects to improve transport connectivity, commercial and overall development of the country, many of which doable without foreign loans.