MANILA -- An official of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has dismissed speculations that the government is rehabilitating Manila Bay to pave the way for a reclamation project.

“When the President (Rodrigo R. Duterte) decided to undertake the work, it was clear (that) nothing else will be done but rehabilitate, clean up Manila Bay,” DILG Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III said during the 2nd People’s Summit on the Impacts of Reclamation held in a hotel here Wednesday.

The government is rehabilitating Manila Bay because scientists know that it can still be revived and its ecosystem restored, Densing said.

Duterte’s issuance of Executive Order (EO) 74 in February has raised speculations about the true motive behind the rehabilitation of Manila Bay.

EO 74 transfers the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) to the Office of the President, and delegates the President’s power to approve reclamation projects to the PRA’s governing board.

The PRA has been tasked to regulate reclamation, create environmentally sustainable reclaimed land, promote coastal resilience, and develop government properties to advance the country’s development goals.

A fisherfolk group, the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA - Pilipinas), has alleged that reclamation is the reason behind the ongoing rehabilitation of Manila Bay to accommodate private business interests.

PAMALAKAYA - Pilipinas believes that EO 74 would hasten the approval of reclamation projects in the country, including those proposed for implementation in Manila Bay.

Densing, however, clarified that the ongoing rehabilitation of Manila Bay is not in preparation for such projects.

“I’m telling you now. The rehabilitation has nothing to do with any project on reclamation,” he assured summit participants.

Densing said Manila Bay’s rehabilitation is based on moral and legal grounds.

There is moral ground for the rehabilitation as it will not only benefit Manila Bay itself but will also help small fisherfolk, whose livelihood depends on the bay’s resources, he said.

“We’re rehabilitating also because (the) Supreme Court (SC) issued in 2008 a ruling that 13 government agencies and 178 local governments must join forces on cleaning up Manila Bay. This is a mandamus order,” he added.

Densing said that because the SC ruling on Manila Bay is a law, “we have to follow (it).”

Last January, the government launched Manila Bay’s rehabilitation so it would again be fit for swimming and other forms of recreation, as the SC ordered.

The Manila Bay rehabilitation covers the cleanup of the bay and its tributaries, relocating informal settlers, and educating the public about the environment and solid waste management. (PNA)