Love Letters to Manila Bay - Oceana Philippines
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Love Letters to Manila Bay


Penning the past to save manila bay: a tapestry of epistolary recollection

In today’s modern age, letter writing has become an antiquated practice, a nostalgic relic of a bygone era. But there is strength in the epistolary art form that cannot be replaced by its electronic or language processing tool counterparts. Reading a person’s letter remains a valuable and meaningful form of communication. The form itself offers the best window to reflect and connect with readers in a personal yet deliberate and effective way.  

International advocacy organization Oceana brought together fisherfolk, youth representatives, and members of civil organizations through a journey of sharing their feelings through a love letter.  By composing their love letters to Manila Bay, they were able to profess not just their love but concern for the ongoing developments and transformation of Manila Bay, while highlighting its cultural, historical, and socio-economic significance.  

By re-embracing the epistolary art form, this Oceana-led activity seeks to inform, educate, and persuade the public on Manila Bay’s natural assets that serve as a life-sustaining ecosystem for marine species, mangroves, and birds.   

Conveying a socio-economic issue through love letters is an effective way to raise awareness and inspire action — an urgent call to stop land reclamation and seabed quarrying projects that already threaten Manila Bay’s natural resources and the survival of the people depending on it for food and income. 

Manila Bay’s historical, natural, and cultural assets 

Manila Bay is a culturally and historically significant body of water strategically located around the capital city serving as its main port. Its waters, once teeming with life and promise, have been relentlessly plundered, leaving behind only the echoes of a forgotten past.  

It has played an important role in Philippine history, serving as a gateway for trade, commerce, and cultural exchange. It is also home to important cultural and historical landmarks, including the historic walled city of Intramuros, the Rizal Monument, and the Philippine Navy headquarters.  

Manila Bay is also a natural asset given its significant ecological importance. It is home to a diverse array of marine life, including coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass beds. These ecosystems play a crucial role in maintaining the health of the bay, and in supporting the livelihoods of millions of Filipinos who rely on it for fishing and other economic activities. It is a suitable area for both capture fisheries and aquaculture.  

From a socio-economic perspective, Manila Bay is an important center of economic activity, with several key industries located in the surrounding areas. These include shipping, tourism, and manufacturing, all of which contribute to the region’s economic growth and development.   

In 2016, the Manila Bay area’s fish sector made up a quarter of the fishing industry’s overall GDP contribution.  

Despite its importance, Manila Bay, as it is today, faces a lot of challenges, including pollution, overfishing, coastal erosion, and reclamation projects, which altogether threaten its ecological and socio-economic sustainability. While considered by local government units as an urban expansion strategy for coastal areas, these projects are expected to cause irreversible impacts on the coastal ecosystems.  

There are now 22 reclamation or dump-and-fill projects that are in various stages of development in Manila Bay alone. The Dutch firm, Boskalis was contracted by San Miguel Corporation to conduct dredging activities in different parts of Manila Bay, including those mentioned below, in Cavite, Bulacan and Bataan. 

“Love Letters” to Manila Bay

Letters have the primacy of framing some of the cleverest ideas, illuminating intentions, and making them known to readers. And since it is experiential, love letters act both as anecdotal and testimonial. In letter writing, literary devices are also employed, providing drama to the form. It makes the reading experience more engaging.  

At the Oceana-organized writeshop, participants composed love letters starting with ideation as a way to describe what Manila Bay means to them, what it personifies, and expound them through personal stories. Writing the letters enabled them to pour out their emotions as they explore their feelings on the current socio-economic issues surrounding Manila Bay.  

In this collection of letters — penned by small scale fisherfolk from Bataan, Cavite, and Bulacan; bird watchers who are members of various civil groups, and the youth — Manila Bay is personified in various ways. 

Here they are, 10 people pouring out their emotions in their respective love letter to Manila Bay:

Click an image to view their love letters! 


Click an image to view their blurb!

Citizen scorecard

On 17 February 2022, the Department of Interior and Local Government (“DILG”) issued Memorandum Circular (“MC”) 2022-018 to ensure that local governments strictly follow the environmental and social safeguards for reclamation and other environmentally critical projects pursuant to the Philippine Environmental Impact Statement Act. This circular reminds local authorities that strict protection of the municipal waters, marine habitats and the livelihood of coastal communities are duties and responsibilities devolved to local government units (LGUs) under the Local Government Code.   

In line with this policy, Oceana, in collaboration with other civil society organizations, developed a Citizen Scorecard to evaluate the LGUs’ compliance with their roles and responsibilities on reclamation and other projects affecting coastal and wetland ecosystems, marine habitats and fisheries resources. The indicators adopted in the scorecard are based on key provisions found in relevant environmental laws, rules and regulations in the Philippines, including the recently issued MC.   

This Citizen Scorecard comprises a total of 48 indicators grouped into four categories: (a) Location, (b) Pre-Project Consultations, (c) Public Participation in the Environmental Impact Assessment, and (d) Project Implementation and Monitoring. An environmentally critical project is determined to be either fully compliant, partially compliant, or critically non-complaint based on the total points accumulated according to the following schedule: 

The scorecard serves as a tool to guide citizens, authorities, and stakeholder communities in understanding the processes and requirements involved when proposed projects impact our right to health, and a healthy, safe, and sustainable environment. Its ultimate goal is to foster public participation, accountability and transparency and adherence to the Rule of Law.  

Oceana and DILG jointly launched the MC and the Citizen Scorecard on March 30, 2022. In the last quarter of 2022, Oceana partnered with PANGISDA-Visayas in the roll out of the scorecard among the stakeholder communities impacted by the planned reclamation projects on the island of Cebu. The results were overwhelmingly concerning, as all pending reclamation projects on the island were rated “critically non-compliant” with legal and environmental safeguards for reclamation projects.   

It should be emphasized that the alarming results of the assessment in Cebu serve as a microcosm, demonstrating the serious issues that pervade reclamation and other projects affecting our ocean and coastlines all over the country. These findings shed light on issues such as undeniable violations of the people’s right to information, consultation, and the right to participate in the decision-making process.  

As the primary duty-bearer, the Philippine Government has to safeguard the people’s constitutional right to a healthy and balanced environment necessitates putting an end to reclamation projects. One thing is clear, reclamation projects not only endanger the sustainability, safety and security of a predominantly coastal nation. It also destroys the rich biodiversity of our coastal and marine ecosystems, which countless Filipinos depend on for sustenance. This makes us extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate, fisheries, and biodiversity crisis we face.