With a majority vote, the Sangguniang Bayan of Virac has reportedly denied the request of Mayor Sinforoso Sarmiento Jr. for authority to enter into an Expression of Collaboration (EOC) with the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) for the conduct of a study on coastal protection against storm surge.
The negative vote was primarily based on the PRA’s responsibility of integrating, directing and coordinating all reclamation projects for and in behalf of the national government, despite its having assumed as part of its mission the promotion of a coastal defense strategy on the most vulnerable coastlines along the eastern seaboard of the Philippines.
According to the draft EOC, the PRA on its own partnered with the Dutch government for the preparation of a Coastal Defense Master Plan for Tacloban City and Palo, Leyte, areas which sustained massive devastation from the storm surge brought by supertyphoon Yolanda in November 2013.
The partnership resulted in the crafting of a Coastal Protection Strategy for the two Leyte areas intended to reduce the probability of flooding and number of casualties.
The study also identified other coastal areas most vulnerable to coastal flooding and sea level rise, with Virac landing as No. 8 in the top 10, a fact reportedly stressed during the SB committee hearings and the vote on the measure itself.
Under the proposed collaboration, the PRA and the LGU Virac are supposed to commit to coordinate on the formulation of a coastal protection master plan for sustainable development and increased community resilience through the planning of adaptation measures against natural coastal hazards within the LGU’s territorial jurisdiction.
The PRA will seek funding or financial/technical grant for the planning while the LGU will provide the necessary data and technical assistance in preparing a proposal.
“The parties shall enter into such appropriate contracts, definitive agreements and any supplemental arrangements as may be necessary or required by a grantor…,” the EOC states.
During the joint committee hearing on June 4, 2020, Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator May Gianan informed that the PRA conducted an actual inspection of Virac’s shoreline in 2016 and determined that there was no plan for a coastal protection strategy.
She informed the committee members that in the plan for Tacloban, the proposal was composed of hard and soft projects like seawall and planting of mangrove and forest species.
Councilor Jose Romeo Francisco, however, expressed his misgivings about the proposal, saying that the agency could have a hidden agenda to reclaim parts of the sea.
He pointed out that it would be okay for other agencies like DPWH to construct seawalls and other structures but the PRA’s responsibility is to reclaim the sea shore.
“Bakit, ano ang mandate sa PRA na bakit hindi na-sample sa si Tacloban, hindi naman sila marunong ng storm surge, ng bagyo?” the veteran legislator pointed out.
Municipal Administrator Elouisa Pastor commented that the PRA would only be assisting in the conduct of the study, there will be no hard projects yet and it’s up for the LGU to accept it or not.
“(This) is actually a win-win situation for the local government,” she said. “Wala siyang negative effect as far as the study is concerned because study lang siya.”
“They’re going to recommend whatever will be the assessment or the findings of the study and it will be up to the Local Government Unit to accept or not to accept the finding and recommendations of the study,” she added.