Dumaguete locals were taken by surprise when local government officials last week bared an ambitious plan to build a 174-hectare project on reclaimed land along the city’s shoreline—but environmental groups, scientists, and concerned citizens were just as quick to protest.
The development plan is a public-private partnership between the Dumaguete LGU and E.M. Cuerpo Inc (EMCI) that aims to reclaim a massive amount of land to build a “Smart City” with shopping malls, residential condominiums, parks, and other structures. With a reported budget of P23 billion, the project is set to be completed in three years and is being billed as both a win for the city’s economy and for the environment.
The project’s video brochure envisions a futuristic and prosperous Dumaguete equipped with, among other things, a heliport to welcome “the visitors and all the dignitaries can land their choppers, demount on their rides and proceed to their respective destinations and commitments using the waiting 5G-connected e-cars transport system.”
However, Dumaguete-based scientists and environmentalists, many connected with Silliman University’s Institute of Environmental and Marine Sciences, have been vocal in their opposition to the project. In a joint statement, a group headed by National Scientist Angel Alcala expressed their objections in no uncertain terms, citing the environmental damage that the project will cause: “The project will directly destroy, literally bury, the few remaining coral reef, seagrass and soft-sediment ecosystems,” it reads.
The statement also goes on to say that the massive amount of material needed for the reclamation will mean destruction of source sites, and reminds the LGU of Dumaguete’s long-standing role in pioneering marine protected areas (MPAs).
Echoing the objections of other citizens’ groups, the scientists also objected to the city government’s lack of transparency and consultation. “Indeed, the general public was caught by surprise,” says Gary Rosales, president of environmental group Kahugpongan Para sa Kinaiyahan Inc. and treasurer of Friends of the Environment in Negros Oriental. “This project has been brewing in the city hall but this was not announced to the public. We do have a lot of experts here but even they were not made part of the technical working group.”
According to sources, Rosales says, the project began with an unsolicited proposal submitted by EMCI back in November 2019, while the unanimous recommendation to award the project to the developer was signed on June 23, 2021.
Rosales, co-convenor of the No to 174 Dumaguete movement, says, “For environmental groups and scientists, [the plan] is already a big no. But we also want to give other groups a chance to see the entirety and sustainability of this endeavor, then let them decide for themselves if this is worth keeping.”
In the meantime, other citizens’ groups have also lodged their objections on social media, while Silliman University has posted an appeal for alumni to join a signature campaign against the project.