Journalists barred from covering public consultation of controversial Dumaguete reclamation project

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(UPDATED) — TWO JOURNALISTS were threatened and prohibited from covering a public consultation on the controversial ‘Smart City’ reclamation project in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental on July 23.

The journalists, who were correspondents of the Negros-based independent alternative media outlet Paghimutad, came to the Southview Hotel to cover the public consultation.

Paghimutad correspondent Maria Nina Pineda, who arrived first, was informed by the hotel guard that Mayor Felipe Remollo gave instructions against allowing the media in the event.

When she returned with another Paghimutad correspondent, the hotel guard and the secretary of City Councilor Lani Ramon said that the venue was full and would no longer accept any more participants.

The two journalists had started taking a video of their conversation and asked why they were not allowed to cover the event when local FM station ‘Yes The Best Dumaguete 106.3’ was livestreaming. The secretary then said she would ask permission from her boss. However, she came back around 15 minutes later with a man who had a gun in his holster.

The armed man, at least 5’11”, explained that the group was not allowed to participate in the event and that they have to return on Monday. Both journalists had taken videos of the conversation before the man started yelling at them to stop.

The man demanded the journalists to give their names to him and proceeded to take pictures of the two Paghimutad correspondents, which prompted them to leave immediately.

According to Alia Abadia, editor-in-chief of Paghimutad, the barring of media practitioners by the local government is a brazen display of abuse of power. “It speaks much about the state of press freedom in Negros: we are stifled and prevented from doing our job,” she said.

Abadia added that Negros Oriental has witnessed heightening attacks against the media in the past few years, such as the killing of journalists Rex Cornelio Pepino, Dindo Generoso, and former NUJP-Dumaguete chapter chair Edmund Sestoso.

Issue of public concern

The proposed P23-billion, 174-hectare reclamation project has been strongly opposed by Dumaguete residents, environmentalists, and multi-sectoral groups since it was first publicly introduced earlier this month.

Although proponents say the planned 5G-equipped ‘Smart City’ island, a mixed-use commercial and residential area, will bring much-needed investment and jobs to Dumaguete, it comes at the cost of the environment and existing livelihoods.

According to a joint statement signed by local experts, building an island in front of Dumaguete will directly destroy and bury the few remaining coral reef, seagrass, and soft-sediment ecosystems that support small-scale fisheries and gleaning.

Moreover, the massive scale of the reclamation project and relatively steep slope of the seafloor off Dumaguete means that enormous amounts of material will be needed to create new land. The said material will most likely be sourced from land or dredged from the seafloor, causing further damage to the source sites.

“The costs and benefits of this project while probably fully appreciated by its private developers and some officials in the City have not been revealed for wide public consideration. Neither are the technical, legal, and due diligence reviews done by the City Council,” read the statement released July 10.

“Absent this, the sociology, ecology, and the economics of the project are unclear.”

World Wide Fund For Nature-Philippines agreed with Dumaguete environmentalists and academics on the environmental consequences of the reclamation, urging the local government to reconsider their plan altogether. “Development at any cost is not development for neither people nor planet. Causing nature to fail to be of service to life is not development but collapse,” the group said.

The subcontractor of the project is a Chinese construction company with no license to operate in the Philippines.

“The environmental catastrophe that the reclamation project would bring to the marine ecosystem is one thing, but having a Chinese firm as its subcontractor is quite another,” Fernando Hicap, chairperson of fishers group Pamalakaya, said in a statement.

“We all know how China rampantly occupies our exclusive economic zone and exploits our marine resources at the expense of the livelihood of our fisherfolks and the national patrimony.”

Report by Ratziel San Juan with reports from Paghimutad-Negros

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