Investigating Environmental Impacts of Land Reclamation Projects in Manila Bay Coastal Areas

Bulacan Province, Philippines

Featured image for the project, Investigating Environmental Impacts of Land Reclamation Projects in Manila Bay Coastal Areas

Photo Credit: AKAP KA-Manila Bay


Fisherfolk and their larger communities depend on the ecosystem of the Manila Bay coastal areas of Bulacan for their livelihood, for example, the 40,000 residents of the municipality of Paombong, Bulacan. Bulacan is a province in the Philippines just north of the national capital region of Manila.  At 34% poverty incidence, fisherfolk comprise one of the poorest sectors of Philippine society yet contribute greatly to the country’s food security. However, these communities are in danger of being displaced, their sources of livelihood destroyed, and the environment at risk in order to make way for massive land reclamation projects that claim to be development projects that will improve the economy and local communities’ everyday lives.


While reclamation projects can be a source of much needed development that local communities need, the current findings from an expert geologist strongly suggest that an urgent and extensive research study needs to be conducted to mitigate—if not altogether prevent—the possible harmful effects on the environment and the people that these projects may cause in Bulacan. The specific objective of this project is to understand the impacts of reclamation and road projects along Manila Bay upon the community of Bulacan.


Residents have reported that representatives of so-called Silvertines Incorporated, an alleged consortium of big investors in the Philippines, have been bothering them about buying out vast areas of fish ponds. Over 3,000 hectares of fish ponds have already been procured. Fisherfolk have started to experience dwindling catches due to large-scale fish cage farms now operated by Silvertines Corporation.


Further, the San Miguel Corporation (SMC) has already published several press releases about developing a 2,500-hectare Aerotropolis. The project is planned to be a metropolitan subregion where the layout, infrastructure, and economy are centered on an airport which serves as a multimodal “airport city” commercial core. Construction of the Aerotropolis would necessarily require removal of the already-vulnerable coastal communities.


With preliminary consultation from University of Illinois at Chicago geologist Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo, the community has learned that the reclamation project has a lethal risk for aggravating geophysical hazards. In particular, the hazards include danger of land subsidence; danger of storm surge and strong waves caused by typhoons; and danger from seismically induced liquefaction.


The project would have far-reaching impacts beyond the province of Bulacan. San Miguel Corporation’s Aerotropolis is only part of a larger reclamation project called the Manila Bay Integrated Flood Control, Coastal Defense, and Expressway Project proposed by the Coastal Development Consortium (CDC). The CDC is composed of the New San Jose Builders Inc. and the San Miguel Holdings Corp., a subsidiary of the San Miguel Corporation. Later, this project could be replicated to cover not only the coast of Bulacan but also the provinces of Pampanga and Bataan. The output of the project will not only inform, but also empower affected communities for education and awareness building to strengthen the community-based organization and lobbying with the legislators for policy advocacy.


Feny Cosico and John “Warner” Carag have selected Joy Santiago and Jake Mendoza as their scientific leads. Joy and Jake will:

  • Investigate ecological impact in the sources of fill material and disposal of unsuitable in-situ material;
  • Assess risks of land subsidence; storm surge and strong waves caused by typhoons; and seismically induced liquefaction;
  • Evaluate erodibility, hydraulics, and geologic conditions of the site;Sub-surface investigation, in-situ testing, and laboratory testing; and
  • Model the predicted changes in coastal water circulation, water quality, pollution, erosion, high storm surges, heavy metals and toxins, and/or flood and typhoon risk.

The community anticipates that Joy and Jake will:

  • Contribute to the development of a white paper to be used by the community in an education and advocacy campaign;
  • Provide access to/necessary equipment for field work; and,
  • Have access to and be able to facilitate laboratory testing, as necessary.

This project started in February 2019 and will take approximately 6-8 months to complete.


Bulacan, Philippines team vet hazard maps in communities

Vetting hazard maps in the community meeting. 1 June 2019

The Bulacan, Philippines team is getting close to having hazards maps vetted with the 7 communities of Bulacan province along Manila Bay. The hazards simulation that Joy Santiago and Jake Mendoza planned to do in June will occur in the next couple of weeks with the expectation that they will have sufficient information for AKAP-KA Manila Bay community leaders to provide guidance as to who will be affected by increased storm surge, should the aerotropolis development proceed.

In the words of John “Warner” Carag, the AGHAM representative with the Thriving Earth Exchange project:

  1. On April 26, 2019, the geohazards assessment team consisting of members of AGHAM, AKAP-KA Manila Bay, graduate students and professor from the National Institute of Geological Sciences, together with some locals, interviewed a total of 35 households in 7 coastal communities in Brgy, Taliptip, Bulakan, Bulacan. The group identified storm surge and flooding from a nearby river as the main hazards affecting the communities in this part of north Manila Bay, Philippines.
  2. On June 1, 2019, the team invited the residents of the communities and articulated the results of the survey in Bunutan, one of the coastal island communities. One major insight from the interview is the resilience of the residents. Some residents have lived in the area for more than 60 years and have never experienced any death nor injury due to storm surge or flooding events. An early warning system is in place in which storm advisories are routinely sent through SMS by the barangay captain to the officer in charge of each coastal community. In this way, the communities can prepare for evacuation to the mainland before the storm’s landfall.
  3. Concerning the threat of displacement due to the construction of the aerotropolis by San Miguel Corporation, the households from the 7 coast island communities interviewed were almost unanimously against this reclamation project. Residents cite loss of livelihood, absence of alternative livelihood skills, loss of residence and identity as the main reasons why most of them would choose to stay in the area amidst perennial geohazards. They do not need to buy food since resources are plenty in the coastal area, like crabs and fish, which the residents also sell to sustain their children’s education in the mainland. Therefore, high resilience of the community and heavy reliance on the coast for food and livelihood suggest that the presence of hazards cannot be used to justify the displacement of the coastal island communities which would impact thousands of Filipino families.

Bulacan is not the only province along Manila Bay facing reclamation issues. Thus, the project team plans to writ up their methodology so that AGHAM and AKAP-KA can replicate this project all along Manila Bay.

Notes from the Field: April 2019

Update: Investigating Environmental Impacts of Land Reclamation Projects in Manila Bay Coastal Areas

All updates for this project

Project Team

Community Leads

Warner Carag is a biologist and the Secretary-General of Advocates of Science and Technology for the People or AGHAM – Diliman Chapter. Warner served as a biologist during AGHAM’s Environmental Investigation Mission which assessed the impact of the Jalaur River Multi-Purpose Project in Panay island, Philippines, the first large scale dam project in the Visayas area. He is also a graduate student in the National Institute of Geological Sciences, University of the Philippines – Diliman.

Collaborating Organization(s)

AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People is the partner national organization. AGHAM, is an organization of patriotric, pro-people science and technology advocates, bounded together by a common interest of promoting science and technology that genuinely serve the interest of the Filipino people, especially the poor.