What Puerto Princesa will look like if our coastline is completely rid of informal settlers?
This comes to mind as the City Government considers reclaiming these areas to cater recreational or economic activities similar to our Puerto Princesa Baywalk now, which was formerly a coastal community of informal dwellers and was known as “Seaside.”
City Mayor Lucilo R. Bayron disclosed during a Save Puerto Princesa Bays event that after the coastal area is vacated, it will be immediately reclaimed to prevent informal settlers from squatting again.
If this plan will be realized, imagine our urban coastal areas without any obstructions and blockades. Coastal areas are most visited by tourists and it is an important economic activity in our city. It will definitely create thriving economic hubs or an attractive coastlines with coastal roads or boulevard-like environs that will dot several areas in our city like Mandaragat, Abanico, Bagong Sikat, Bagong Silang and other areas. A cruise ship port has been existing in Barangay Pagkakaisa.
It will open the door of opportunities for food vendors and other businesses to flourish while people from all walks of life, local and tourists alike, will converge in a picturesque coastline. A perfect place to hang out and unwind, similar to Al fresco dining where local delicacies are served. The place may be perfect for events like concerts and other outdoor activities, or a place for night market like that in Baguio, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu and other cities, offering economic benefits not only trike drivers, vendors, and businessmen.
This City, famous for its stunning panorama, beautiful islets, scenic spots that evokes the pristine image of mysterious paradise has attracted migrants and settlers from different parts of the country, notably fishermen from Visayas. This resulted to increase informal settlers, most of them, occupying coastal easements and mangrove areas.
The influx of migrants within Puerto Princesa Bay has been considered as drivers to marine ecosystem damage and pressures to the natural environment. Over the years, the once sparsely populated coastal community became densely populated coastlines with wooden shanties that mushroomed ubiquitously that based on the rough estimate of the City Government have now ballooned to 25,000 individuals.
The relocation of informal settlers living along the city’s coastal areas is a necessity and its implementation should be immediate.
Starting July 2023 when the Save the Bay events started through the City Government’s initiative, it yielded tons of solid wastes from the coastlines and from the houses’ “silong”- the lowermost portion of a house partly or wholly below ground level.
Save the Bay participants recovered solid wastes mostly driftwoods, rubber tires, slippers, rags, PET bottles, ropes, plastic sachets and other debris. A total of 212.66 tons of wastes collected during the four Save the Bay’s coastal cleanup in Mandaragat, Bagong Silang, Bagong Sikat at Pagkakaisa, while the latest clean up, two days ago, collected more than 80 tons of solid wastes.
Puerto Princesa’s Save the Bays project is geared towards enhanced local governance on environmental management to ensure good water quality, environmental health and protect the city’s coastal waters from pollution – a major undertaking aimed at preserving its bays, coastal and marine ecosystem, restoring cleanliness in the shoreline neighborhoods and promoting order and discipline among the residents in these areas. It is a cohesive action in partnership with various government agencies and offices, institutions, organizations and sectors within the city.
Based on the data from the Drive Against Professional Squatters and Squatting Syndicates (DAPSASS) also known as city anti-squatting task force, more than 7,000 families in the coastal areas who are set for relocation since 2018. It is safe to assume that this number may have already ballooned to close to 10,000.
Informal settlers in coastal communities has been contributory to these solid wastes, specifically from houses on stilts that encroached in coastal easements. To avert the accumulation of solid wastes and marine plastic caused by informal settlers, the City Government is set to relocate these coastal informal settlers to a safer location. As early as 2018, the City Government already acquired relocation site in Barangay Irawan considered as bold step in addressing climate change risks and ensuring coastal resiliency.
Once all the coastal informal settlers have gone, we could imagine facelifted coastal areas without any shanties, and most of all, a cleaner coastal environment.
Coastal areas are interfaces between the land and the sea and its location is considered as privileged because of its distinctive geographic features and the fact that land near the sea is relatively limited in relation to the existing lands. The occupation of informal settlers in the areas for many decades caused significant morphological transformations in our coastlines.
Architects said that the coastal settlements, or height of buildings can have a major impact on the aesthetics of cities, as higher buildings tend to be the most visible building elements in the urban landscape or in coastal areas.
Evidences supporting the importance of aesthetic satisfaction with urban spaces and its broader implications for a sustainable city have been put forward by several authors and their literatures. They claimed that an aesthetically pleasing urban environment can attract people and contribute urban vitality.
Relocating informal settlers may not be a simple task to perform, but our city should execute its plan. The City Government will not only relocating few families, but the entire coastal dwellers that have already reached 10,000 families by now. This may definitely take time, but the City Government and Department of Human Settlement and Urban Development (DHSUD) already formalized its MOA for the housing project for informal settlers under President Marcos’ Pambansang Pabahay Para sa Pilipino (4PH) in Barangay Irawan.
Relocation is intra-settlement in nature, basically shifting residents to new locations within their original neighborhood. Relocation will require opening new roads, installing electricity lines and water pipes, and constructing sewerage system. In this process, informal settlers are moved to a completely new place.
Involuntary Resettlement Sourcebook: Planning and Implementation in Development Projects published by World Bank in 2003 reminded us in resettlement, projects must do more than move people; they must provide physical infrastructure as well as economic opportunities and social services.