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Philippine diocese fights 'smart city' plan

Plan to reclaim land from the sea would be an environmental disaster, says Bishop Cortes

Philippine diocese fights 'smart city' plan

A Catholic bishop says the livelihoods of fishermen in Dumaguete in Negros Oriental province will be threatened by a land reclamation project to build a ‘smart city.’ (Photo: AFP)

A Catholic bishop has voiced opposition to a huge reclamation project underway to build a “smart city” in the central Philippines, saying it could have a devastating impact on communities and coastal ecosystems.

Bishop Julito Cortes of Dumaguete said local authorities needed to consider the environmental and social implications the 174-hectare project — a commercial and residential hub with malls, condominiums and a marina — would have on his diocese in Negros Oriental province.

In a radio interview on July 15, he said he would never tire of fighting for the environment and the ideals contained in Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si'.

“Protecting the environment is a calling not just for laypeople but also for bishops and priests ... Please, I beg you, our environment is our real wealth. Let us not destroy it,” Bishop Cortes told Radio Veritas.

He said his diocese has called on the Environmental Department in Manila to block the joint venture between Dumaguete City and a private corporation from building the smart city.

Bishop Cortes said the 23-billion-peso [US$458 million] reclamation cost could be used to cushion the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The reclamation will not only destroy marine life but will also deprive our people of their living because there would be no more fish to catch

“The pandemic is not yet over. Let us channel funds for humanitarian projects. The reclamation will not only destroy marine life but will also deprive our people of their living because there would be no more fish to catch,” he said.

Coral reefs and other marine ecosystems that support fishing in Dumaguete will likely be lost, he said.

“The Catholic Church is not alone in this. Youth groups and environmental groups have conducted studies to prove that local fishermen are now beginning to see a decline in their catch. They are now forced to go to deeper waters. Truly, their livelihood has been affected,” Bishop Cortes said.

Dumaguete Diocese has launched an online petition with environmental groups to oppose the reclamation.

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“We are not only fighting the pandemic at this time. We are also fighting for the environment and the right of our people to have a source of income,” the prelate said.

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