Lab Notes | Manila Bay reclamation and the Baseco community


On July 8 and 9, 2023, a Manila Bay Solidarity Mission was organized by the People’s Niche or the People’s Network for the Integrity of Coastal Habitats and Ecosystems, a nationwide alliance of civil society and grassroots organizations fighting for the protection of our country’s coastal and marine heritage. Among the member organizations of the People’s Niche are AGHAM and Kalikasan PNE. As part of our internship program in AGHAM, we as forestry students were invited to be part of the solidarity mission to assess the environmental and social impacts in Baseco, Manila.

Baseco is a coastal settlement in Manila’s Port Area. As one of the largest and most densely populated urban poor communities in the country, Baseco faces numerous challenges that further exacerbate the vulnerabilities experienced by its residents.

One such challenge is the significant threat of the Bulacan Aerotropolis. The project purportedly seeks to facilitate commercial, residential, and tourism development while accommodating population growth and fostering economic expansion through increased business space. It is funded by the San Miguel Corporation.

Braving scorching heat and eager to directly learn about the Baseco residents, we stayed with them for two days. Our learnings on the negative impacts on the people and the environment are eye-openers for continuing education, organizing and mobilization towards science that really serves the people.

This project disrupts the lives and livelihoods of over 150,000 people and poses a considerable risk to marine species. The inadequacy of basic services, such as water and electricity, and the presence of poorly constructed houses and widespread garbage accumulation, reflect a clear manifestation of state neglect. Instead of receiving the support and services they deserve, the community’s houses and livelihoods are threatened due to the reclamation project.

Many families in Baseco eke out a living through odd jobs. (Photo by AGHAM)

Many eke a living through odd and informal jobs. The lack of formal job opportunities leads to high unemployment rates, forcing residents to engage in informal economic activities like street vending and waste scavenging as means of livelihood. These limitations perpetuate Baseco’s socio-economic vulnerabilities and hinder their ability to improve their lives. The scarcity of formal job opportunities within their community has resulted in high unemployment rates, pushing them towards informal economic activities like street vending and waste scavenging just to make ends meet. When we went out to eat street foods, we saw a lot of vendors out on the streets selling scrap or junk items. There was also a guy selling used Android phones. Our initial thoughts focused on where did they get those items from? Did they get them from waste bin scavenging? What is clear is that they are struggling to survive and feed their families.

Many women in Baseco have also found another source of income, while paltry, through peeling garlic. Nanay Luisa, who peels garlic for added income to her fisherfolk husband’s small earnings, says that she and other women only get paid P80 per sack of peeled garlic. Nanay Luisa says that a sack takes six hours of work to complete. She says she is lucky if she can rake in P160.00 in a day. Despite this, she remains grateful to be earning something rather than being idle.

“Mabuti nang may ganto kaysa wala, nakakatulong din sa budget,” (This is better than nothing. At least, I earn a little.) she explained.

She said that, previously, fishermen were able to catch fish for commercial purposes, but now they are barely able to catch enough to feed their families. It is apparent that the reclamation project has significant impacts not only on marine life species in Manila bay but also the local community relying on it as well.

A row of houses in Baseco, Tondo, Manila (Photo by AGHAM)

When we first reached the area, one could smell the breeze from the bay that was almost comparable to sewage odor. Sanitation and waste management also emerge as major concerns within Baseco. Limited access to clean water and inadequate sanitation facilities contribute to poor hygiene practices which result in rampant spread of diseases. The community’s close proximity to heavily industrialized areas results in pervasive air pollution and poor air quality. Improper waste disposal and informal settlements along the coastline further exacerbates their situation by contributing to water pollution. Compounding these challenges is the ever-looming threat of flooding, particularly during typhoon seasons and high tides. Flooding not only causes property damage but also increases the risk of waterborne diseases, amplifying the already dire living conditions endured by Baseco residents.

The locals face severe limitations in accessing fundamental services such as clean water, sanitation, healthcare, and education. Jerome, a local and a member of ANAKBAYAN, shared his experience about education. He told us that most of the people in Baseco chose to work rather than to continue studying because of their living conditions. We have also observed that the houses in Baseco are adjoining or “dikit-dikit” to the point that you can hear the people outside on the streets and also in their own homes. Also, the electricity and WiFi are prepaid as most of the residents there cannot afford to pay monthly. We have also noticed that some of the houses do not have a bathroom. We saw a few locals bathing outside using a “tabo” and bucket. Other houses were not even cemented so their living space is makeshift with no flooring.

The pursuit of projects that negatively impact communities like Baseco, under the guise of development, is an unjust practice perpetuated by large corporations. Equally unjust is the government’s approval of such projects while neglecting the well-being of communities like Baseco, despite it being their responsibility as an institution. Science and development should consider the actual conditions experienced on the ground and prioritize projects that genuinely benefit communities. The situation in Baseco is not an isolated incident but rather a problem prevalent in various parts of the country. The P736.5 billion Aerotropolis project headed also by the San Miguel Corporation in Bulacan causes similar negative human and environmental impacts. Projects often proceed without legal permits, bypassing laws, and causing harm to communities and the environment, all driven by the pursuit of profit.

As students studying environmental courses, it is crucial for us to maintain a strong connection to the reality faced by communities like Baseco. The knowledge we acquire should be used to benefit the people rather than profit-oriented corporations. As young individuals, we have a collective responsibility to engage in campaigns that champion the well-being of communities. We are the ones who will inherit the consequences of current actions and, therefore, must actively advocate for the welfare of communities like Baseco. As young scientists, we have an obligation to serve the people by employing grounded and efficient use of renewable and non-renewable resources of the country. The involvement of youth is more critical than ever, as we study society and contribute to the national democratic movement that actively challenges imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism which are major drivers of environmental destruction and exploitation of natural resources for profit.

The challenges faced by Baseco residents demonstrate the intricate connection between environmental health and socio-economic status in urban poor communities. Issues pertaining to sanitation, pollution, flooding, and socio-economic vulnerabilities demand immediate attention and comprehensive solutions. Young scientists play a vital role in effecting positive change and advocating for the well-being of communities by utilizing science for the benefit of all. By prioritizing community needs and actively participating in the national democratic movement, a more equitable and sustainable future can be realized for Baseco and similar communities across the nation. The resilience and cooperation of the Baseco community during the Manila Bay Solidarity Mission have been invaluable, inspiring efforts to raise awareness about their challenges and strive for lasting improvements.

As of writing, Typhoon Egay has just hit areas in Luzon causing mass flooding, including the Baseco community. It is without a doubt that the reclamation projects have contributed to further hardships on the community. (

* Lab Notes is a collective blog by AGHAM-Science and Technology for the People. Carla Padilla Ac-ac and Aura Vida Lapitan are interns of AGHAM.

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