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Scientists welcome probe on mangrove planting malpractices in Bulacan

AGHAM – Advocates of Science and Technology for the People welcomes the decision of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to probe malpractices in the mangrove planting by San Miguel Corporation (SMC) in Bulacan. DENR also ordered SMC to temporarily halt mangrove planting in the province pending the result of the investigation.

On September 9, AGHAM together with other organizations under the People’s Network for the Integrity of Coastal Habitats and Ecosystems (People’s NICHE) forwarded grave concerns over SMC’s mangrove planting in Bulacan [1]. One of the most striking malpractices by SMC was planting the wrong species of mangrove (Rhizophora sp.) in the seaward zone, indicating that proper zonation of mangrove propagules was not implemented. A previous assessment by AGHAM showed that dominant mangroves in Bulacan are Sonneratia and Avicennia, which are the appropriate species for planting in the seaward zone. Another issue raised by the People’s NICHE was the deliberate destruction of mangrove pneumatophores during planting. This was further confirmed in a video posted by CNN Philippines [2].

Pneumatophores are specialized root systems that facilitate gas exchange and thus are important parts of mangrove trees. Given these harmful, irresponsible and unscientific practices, it is apparent that there is lack of proper consultation with local stakeholders, especially scientists. While planting mangroves can help mitigate climate change, wrong practices may have negative implications on the immediate ecosystem. SMC recently announced a survival rate of 90% [3], yet it has been only a year since they’ve started planting and a survival rate that high is rather rare or highly unusual, as pointed out by Prof. Dan Friess, an associate professor and head of the mangrove laboratory at the National University of Singapore [4].

More than mangrove planting malpractices, AGHAM urges the DENR to review SMC’s implementation of the Bulacan Aerotropolis project in its entirety, ideally by an independent third-party to avoid biases. We have earlier raised grave concerns on human rights violations perpetrated by the military deployed in the Aerotropolis site. On October 29, at least 40 fisherfolk were reportedly detained and threatened by military personnel [5]. Fisherfolk have also reported cases of mangrove cutting in May 2021, just three weeks before DENR issued an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) to SMC. These environmental violations and human rights abuses should warrant the cancellation of the said ECC.

As we face a worsening climate crisis, it is imperative that the government, particularly the DENR, uphold its mandate to protect the environment and forward the interests of the people, especially those that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Protecting and conserving the remaining mangroves in Manila Bay is one of the best ways to mitigate the impacts of climate change in the country. The climate crisis is happening NOW – it will not wait for newly-planted trees.

References

[1] Licas News. (2021, September 10). Green groups seek probe into corporate giant’s mangrove planting initiatives. URL: https://philippines.licas.news/2021/09/10/green-groups-seek-probe-into-corporate-giants-mangrove-planting-initiatives/

[2] CNN Philippines. (2021, September 24). Bulacan locals join SMC in Mangrove planting. (Actual destruction of mangroves pneumatophores can be seen from 1:15 to 1:18.) URL: http://3.1.16.13/videos/2021/9/24/Bulacan-locals-join-SMC-in-Mangrove-planting.html

[3] The Manila Times (2021, November 3). SMC plants 3.5 M trees, mangroves report 90% survival rate. https://www.manilatimes.net/2021/11/03/public-square/smc-plants-35-m-trees-mangroves-report-90-survival-rate/1820690

[4] Dan Friess @danfriess (2021, November 5). Twitter post: https://twitter.com/danfriess/status/1456433008794169344

[5] AKAP KA Manila Bay. (2021, November 3). Official Statement on the Arrest of at least 40 Fisherfolk. https://www.facebook.com/617773201895317/posts/1554709134868381

Photo: CNN Philippines

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