What exactly does the Dumaguete reclamation project of 174 hectares off the coast of the city — an area, by the way, three times the size of the Luneta — mean in terms of economic impact? Here is the arithmetic for economic disaster.
(I’d like to underline that this is not just an environmental issue but also one of pesos and centavos, since the city planners have brushed off the importance of dolphins, blue whales, and you know the creatures that pull their weight in tourism.)
First off, “174 hectares” doesn’t really give you a feel of the big picture of the figures. It’s actually the same as 1.74 million square meters. However, reclamation is always 3D, so you need to think three-dimensionally. The depth of Dumaguete Bay runs from four meters near the shoreline to some 28 meters at its deepest, but let’s just go with a median figure of 10 meters.
The total volume you would therefore need for this reclamation project is a whopping 17.4 million cubic meters of sand, soil, and whatever the project proponent EM Cuerpo Inc. will have to throw into the crystalline waters of Dumaguete Bay to make this happen.
Just how vast is 17.4 million cubic meters? Well, the average dump truck can carry 11 cubic meters of building materials. You would hence need 1.6 million dump truck trips to create the proposed “fake island” of Dumaguete.
Can you imagine three million dump trucks? They’d have to go back and forth, of course – rumbling down the narrow streets of Dumaguete, cratering the roads and the bay walk where 17 million cubic meters of sand and rocks need to be dumped on the boulevard before they would be thrown into the sea.
That alone would change not just the vista of Dumaguete but also its presently civilized atmosphere as a university town and a placid retirement community.
The city has a unique two- to three-story profile with plenty of mid-century homes. There are charming restaurants and for now, not a single anonymous mall. I’m not even talking about the strangulation of fishes and the demolition of coral reefs, but the economic toll on the two-legged creatures on land.
The noise, dirt and dust would instantly uglify the whole city. Make no mistake, nobody would be spared, if you think it’s just the folks eating silvanas, sunning themselves in Silliman or living in the houses sitting by the bay. The financial losses for all the hotels, restos, stores, homes and other business establishments in the entire city would be immeasurable.
But there is something else that we can measure, and that is where fat-cat contractor EM Cuerpo, a friend of China behemoth Poly Changda Engineering Corp., says they will get the sand and soil for the reclamation. It will be from no less than the Ocoy River of Negros Oriental itself.
Documents from EM Cuerpo itself reportedly estimate that it will be carting off sand from a 900-hectare size area of the river — now we’re talking of an area 15 times the size of the Luneta — which comes to about 450,000 cubic meters for landfill. That’s a drop in the bucket of 17 million cubic meters it will need to execute the project. So there will probably be other Negros mountains or rivers that will be flattened or killed for this project.
Geologist Ken Mafel Orcullo from Sibulan town next to Dumaguete estimates that quarrying the Ocoy River from the distance of Kalamigan bridge to Valencia — an area of 50 hectares — would already have dire effects on the communities around it.
EM Cuerpo’s plan of 900 hectares would cover, he says, four whole barangays. It’s an astronomically huge area that would scrape off the precious top soil needed for agriculture and probably just toss it aside, creating a whole new set of problems.
The topsoil would have to be removed to expose the bedrock to extract material. Heavy-duty blasting would be needed. It would leave unprotected slopes that would lead to landslides, to name just one example of a negative effect on the economy of the area. “It would have a catastrophic effect on the host community,” he warned.
Orcullo adds that the brunt of quarrying would be borne not only in Dumaguete but also elsewhere in the province, especially in Sibulan town itself. Rivers, he points out, have a way of rebalancing themselves. When you remove tens of thousands of cubic meters of sand, that void must be filled and Mother Nature will correct itself in the way it knows how.
“Our spillway has already suffered from quarrying down river, so we cannot cross the Ocoy easily,” he said.
He also points out that reclamation projects need “armor rocks” or huge boulders that need to be lined up along the artificial coastline to protect it from the tide and the waves. These large volcanic stones would most likely have to be sourced from as far away as Valencia, once again cutting a jagged path to the city through once-lush countryside.
President Duterte may not be the most popular figure these days, but to his credit he called a halt to quarrying in all of Negros Oriental last June 2021 and the DENR has called for the submission of position papers by quarrying companies to dispute this ban.
This should send a collective chill down the spines of small towns across the country that tend to be the target of this kind of economic adventurism. Can it be a coincidence that certain contractors are cozying up to newly minted presidentiables? The rumor is that some even aspire to seek congressional posts themselves in other provinces — in order to more easily target important construction materials such as sand and rocks, perhaps?
The City Government and EM Cuerpo claim that untold riches await the people of Dumaguete City once this reclamation is completed.
Let’s first look at an existing development in Dumaguete City: Marina Spatiale by the expert and highly experienced property group Filinvest. It is developing a 1.7-hectare site featuring a mall and high-rise condominiums on one end of Rizal Boulevard. Can you imagine 100 Marina Spatiales rising on the 174-hectare property? Can you also further imagine they would be 100 percent sold out?
The 174-hectare reclamation is not “a mini BGC” or “a mini Makati CBD.” There aren’t 100 condominiums in either of these cities.
Now what if the reclamation profits never come and the untold riches never happen? What happens if — after at least 10 long, hard years of stripping the Dumaguete rivers, Negros mountains, and the debasement of the city and its marine preserves — the project is never completed? What if it becomes a white elephant sitting monstrously on the coast of the city after killing off its environment and its economy?
Then the City Government of Dumaguete would have gambled not only with the present lives of its citizens but also the futures of their children’s children in exchange for complete and utter economic ruin. The future of the reclamation is said to be uncertain, but the destruction of the city’s economy to even get the process started is beyond doubt.