Stretching at Manila Bay, where the famous sun set paints a dramatic view everyday, lies Freedom Island. Also known as the Las Pinas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Eco-tourism Area, it is the last remaining mangrove frontier in Metro Manila that serves as a sanctuary for marine life and an avian refuge for more than 80 species of local and migratory birds. By virtue of its multifarious biodiversity and fragile ecosystem, it was declared as a critical habitat in 2007. But, ironically, it is presently bombarded with threats of relentless garbage disposal and the impending reclamation project of the Philippine government.
The 175 hectare haven defends the coast from strong winds and waves and its lagoon performs as an outlet for major waterways of nearby cities. The mangrove and salt marshes ecosystem functions as a buffer that protects sea grasses, seaweeds and coral reefs from heavy sedimentation and serves as a habitat for a wide-range of aquatic and marine species that also provides feeding areas for commercially important fishes and mollusks. Large number of local fisherfolk families and coastal dwellers depend on it for their livelihood and security.
Once when Manila Bay was considered one of the Philippines’ national assets, the mangrove ecosystem used to be one of the best to talk about because of its great potential to both ecological and socio-economical purposes. Its abundance invited cetaceans and other rare marine animals to inhabit the bay a long time ago.
However, the bay has suffered from serious water quality deterioration due to the dumping of sewage, garbage, industrial pollutants and land reclamation. The problem exacerbates with the decline of the mangrove population from 54,000 hectares during the latter part of the 19th century to only about 794 hectares at present primarily due to land conversion / reclamation projects and toxic contamination. Mangrove loss means disruption or loss of food and habitat of marine species. And the last-remaining mangrove forest in Freedom Island also means the last of our hope for the living things that depends on it.
The inner portions of Manila Bay near Metro Manila and Cavite are almost devoid of large fishes and marine life. While the waters near Bataan and Batangas, however, are still home to bottle-nose dolphins as well as large schools of fishes. There was also an occurrence a few years back in 2009 of large pods of rare melon-head dolphins, 200 to 300 as estimated, which flocked the shallow waters of Manila Bay. Have they not been saved by the local fishermen who drove them away to safety, awful things could have happened to the pod in the contaminated waters. Countless incidents of marine animal deaths due to intake of plastic waste and other contaminants have been sighted in Manila Bay. The environmental depletion had not been only a danger to marine life but to people as well as the phenomenon of red tide and climate change-related catastrophes frequently arise.
Protecting and restoring Freedom Island and Manila Bay means a lot in protecting and restoring all life forms inhabiting the area. Various organizations from coastal communities, fisherfolks, students, professionals, environmentalists and other sectors undertakes a central role to save it from present and impending threats. Series of coastal and inland waterway clean-ups have been launched and started a broad and viral movement.
SAVE FREEDOM ISLAND MOVEMENT (SFIM) is a gathering of different organizations, groups and individual advocates with common aspirations for environmental conservation and protection and believes that such movement is important in raising the awareness and mobilization of the people to obtain significant change.
It believes that protecting Freedom Islands and other critical habitats from further corporate exploitation and degradation is essential to our struggle for the country’s environmental wellness, people’s welfare and national patrimony.
The Movement, which began with clean-up activities and inter-partnerships with different environmental networks and grassroots communities for years, was just formally launched with media hype on September 11, 2011 during the “Coastal Clean-Up 9/11” at Freedom Island led by Earth Island Institute Philippines (EII-Phils) and its networks. Said activity was participated by 559 people.
Organizations and individuals who first acted to convene the SFIM were EII-Phils, Stand For The People, Samahan ng mga Manggagawa sa Konstruksyon (Construction Workers’ League) – National Capital Region, Kadamay-NCR (Organization of Urban Poor Dwellers), Kabataan Para sa Sining at Kultura (Youth for Arts and Culture), and individuals from birdwatcher clubs, fisherfolks, schools and communities.
SFIM’s objectives are the following:
1) Unite the broadest spectrum of environmental advocates regarding the issue of Freedom Islands in particular, as well as other environmental concerns in general, forge cooperation, motivate them to take active part in the campaign, and to come out with resolutions as an expression of unity.
2) Intensify the protest campaigns against the Manila-Cavite Coastal Road and Reclamation Project (MCCRRP), the resurrected PEA-Amari scam, to stop the destructive reclamation project.
3) Serve as a vehicle for information dissemination, education, lobbying, mass actions and others concerning the said issue.
4) Lead or support clean-up drives, waste segregation, recycling and other environmental activities.
5) Link up the struggles of environmental organizations, groups and advocates of the Save Freedom Island Movement with the struggles of other sectors and groups affected by environmental destruction.
Though it is unrealistic to claim that clean-up activities will immediately solve the years of neglect to our coasts, SFIM is hoping that this could be a start of rehabilitation with the help of the grassroots communities’ united and sustained action. Direct actions like this, SFIM believes, would enlighten and inspire people to take part in the said campaign. This is also a call to the Philippine government that people want this place conserved and protected and would not want further irreversible impacts caused by land reclamation projects, that’s why they are cleaning it up.