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We, disaster survivors, environmental advocates, scientists, concerned citizens and representatives of various communities and organizations, herewith petition President Rodrigo Duterte to stop the implementation of the Tacloban-Palo-Tanauan Tide Embankment project, also known as the “Great Wall of Leyte.”

The project, which was budgeted at 7.95 billion pesos by the previous Aquino government, proposes  a 27.3-kilometre seawall along two municipalities and one city. It will displace at least 10,000 households, potentially affect hectares of mangroves and may bring about more environmental hazards than what the project aims to address.

Now, despite mounting opposition, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is  bent on rushing the construction of this massive project on the pretext of preparing for Yolanda-like storm surges.

Amid the snail-paced construction of permanent shelters, resettlement sites far from being habitable, evidenced by the 1% occupancy rate estimated by the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) and the phenomenon of relocatees returning back to government-declared No Dwelling Zones (NDZs), we believe that the hurried eviction of disaster survivors to cater the Tide Embankment project, with no public consultation, has no place in this stage of rehabilitation. Coastal residents have clamoured for resilient adequate resettlement areas that are near sources of livelihood and a properly located evacuation site.

While the project is touted to protect people from storm surges, it is bereft of sound scientific study and a holistic, multidisciplinary perspective. An initial review by geoscientists Kelvin Rodolfo and Narod Eco noted that the project dangerously underestimates the storm surges of Yolanda, in terms of the heights and return periods. Effects of multiple hazards such as liquefaction, ground shaking, and inland floods on the performance of the structure are not considered.

A detailed review by AGHAM (Advocates of Science and Technology for the People) geoscientists of the Project’s EIS, echoes the concerns raised by Rodolfo and Eco, and highlights the  serious lack of relevant information on baseline conditions, engineering designs, and impact assessment and mitigation. As a result, the EIS glosses over the enhanced risks of catastrophic failure of the embankment during storm surge events, and of worsened floods due to disrupted inland drainage systems. The granting of the ECC in October 2015 by the DENR-EMB Region 8, on the basis of this low-quality EIS, is surprising.  

The EIS lightly discussed mangroves, and did not recognize the proposed structure’s impacts on this ecosystem. A separate study by the Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines (CEC) identified at least 100 hectares of mangroves likely to be affected by the tide embankment. Mangroves are natural storm surge and wave barriers, and are protected under Philippine laws.

The EIS also failed to solicit and represent the views of community stakeholders. A perception survey conducted by CEC in October 2016 also exposes how little information and consultation of the public were done, in spite the huge displacement that the project will entail. Local coastal dwellers and businesses along the site  further question the intention of the project, when  project design shows that some business establishments such as hotels and “big facilities” along the coast are spared by the embankment,  and are thus exempted from eviction or displacement.

The government should learn to accept that when the poor risk to reside along hazard-prone areas like the coast, it is not because they are being stubborn; but it is a matter of necessity, since they lack more viable alternatives to survive.

We stand that in mitigating the impacts of natural calamities or reducing risk of disasters, planning and consultation with affected communities and the public must be done with due diligence.  Development projects such as the Tacloban-Palo-Tanauan Tide Embankment Project must be able to carefully factor in social, economic and environmental concerns. That this ill-planned mega-project and the eviction of families in coastal barangays is being prioritized over the construction of climate-resilient permanent evacuation centers and shelters accessible to natural sources of  livelihood, validly raises the question: For whom is the Tide Embankment Project really intended for?

We challenge the Duterte administration to save taxpayers’ money, stop the defective Tacloban-Palo-Tanauan Tide Embankment Project and heed the Yolanda survivors’ clamor for alternative approaches, democratic consultations, and prioritization of swift and adequate response to address their well-being.

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