Bishops of Manila: development must balance common good

In a unique example of episcopal involvement in city planning and commercial development, twenty one bishops in the Archdiocese of Manila—including its archbishop, the Most Reverend Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle, D.D.—have written to the president of the Philippines with their concerns for the Manila Bay Reclamation Project, a massive mixed-use development proposal that includes the construction of artificial islands in Manila Bay.

While the project has stirred concern among many sectors, the Church is expressing its own particular blend of caution.

The bishops' letter calls attention to scripture, Catholic social teachings, and the writings of Bl. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It also echoes statements by Pope Francis that urge the Church to encourage economic models of development that do not bring excessive profit to some by bringing pain to others—or that have no regard for the natural world. Quoting the Holy Father, Archbishop Tagle writes that the bishops

appeal to you [President Simeon Benigno C. Aquino III] to be with us in responding to the call of Pope Francis. “Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of one another and of the environment”

Make no mistake, this letter is not an opinion piece. The bishops have done their homework. Their comments express the findings of researchers that have studied the development’s risk to flooding and earthquakes, as well as its impact on ecosystems. The letter also suggests that public investments in this project would be better spent maintaining and improving existing communities.

Sunset on Manila Bay. Project critics worry about lost

views should the proposed development be built

Photo: Flicker/Roslyn in Starfish Island

The bishops conclude with an impressive blend of faith, reason, and policy analysis.

The scientific, legal and moral basis of our opposition for the reclamation of Manila Bay echoes God’s message. The Scriptures tell us in the Book of Genesis that after creating the heavens, the earth, the sea, and man and woman, “God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). Manila Bay is God’s creation and is God’s gift to the Filipino people. Blessed John Paul II constantly reminded us of this during. In a message for World Day of Peace titled, “Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All of Creation,” he warned us that “we cannot interfere in one area of the ecosystem without paying due attention both to the consequences of such interference in other areas and to the well-being of future generations.” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI elaborated on this in his own 2010 World Day of Peace message, “If you want to cultivate Peace, Protect Creation.”
At the heart of Catholic social teaching is the concept of the Common Good. This is what should guide us in our decision regarding the Reclamation project. So we ask, “who stands to benefit from this project?”
There is no question that the Project will generate spectacular profits for the corporations pushing the projects and for Local Government Units, many of which have serious debt problems. Should the decision to allow the project be determined only by financial considerations? Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his last World Day of Peace Message on January 1, 2013, pointed out that “the predominant (economic) model of recent decades called for seeking maximum profit and consumption ... aimed at considering individuals solely in terms of their ability to meet the demands of competitiveness.” He said further that much tension and conflict are caused “by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism.” He thus called for “a new economic model” and “a new model of well as a new approach to the economy”.
A vision based on this “new model of development” is already being pursued to restore Manila Bay to its former richness. Our own Supreme Court decided, en banc, on December 18, 2008, in favor of the people and ordered all concerned agencies of the government to undertake a Mandatory Clean up and Rehabilitation of Manila Bay. According to research, the bay’s toxicity level has not made it unfit for marine life such as hasa-hasa, bisugo, squid, crab, shrimp, oyster and mussels, that sustains the livelihood of settlers along the coastlines of Cavite, Metro Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga and Bataan. “There is hope of restoration of Manila Bay’s marine resources. Manila Bay, with all its pollution, still contains life and gives life,” Dr. Laura David of UP-MSI told the Manila Standard Today newspaper (July 24, 2013).

This is really, really good stuff.

Will this episcopal statement have any effect? Perhaps. The Philippines is a predominately Catholic country. Whatever happens, I’ll make sure to keep you posted on these pages.

But for now, may God bless Archbishop Tagle and the bishops who have joined their signatures to his. Their involvement in this local eco-issue serves as a model of local churches everywhere.

Photo of Archbishop Tagle, Photo: Flicker/James Sarmiento

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Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.