Nayong Pilipino at a crossroads:
 Save lives or save the environment?

The ongoing debate on the use of a sprawling idle property inside the Entertainment City in Parañaque is as hot as the scorching summer heat. 

On one side is tycoon Enrique Razon, who wants to build the mega vaccination site on the property for free in time for the arrival of Moderna vaccines in the country in the coming months.

But the Nayong Pilipino Foundation, owner of the property, claims that close to 500 trees would be cut to make way for the project. It also said the land hosts a plurality of wildlife, especially birds, that will take decades to recover when lost.

Razon however, said the land is a reclaimed land with no forest and wildlife. 

“The proposed site is actually a deserted, uninhabited and vacant area and not an urban forest as erroneously claimed. It must be remembered that the entire Entertainment City sits on reclaimed land and unused portions of it, along with the Nayong Pilipino property, have limited vegetation including non-endemic trees,” Razon’s ICTSI Foundation said.

Photos courtesy of ICTSI FOUNDATION INC.

Razon wonders why there is even a debate on how to use the property when the Philippines is facing its biggest crisis ever. 

“This (pandemic) is the biggest crisis we are facing. It’s not a crisis of ipil-ipil or talahib. Maybe there’s a crisis of stupidity but this is a health crisis,” Razon said in a television interview on Tuesday night.

CTSI chairman and president Enrique Razon

NPF executive director Lucille Karen Malilong-Isberto has resigned amid the controversy. 

Citing Presidential Decree 1445, NPF raised questions on the propriety of authorizing a private group to take over public lands, as it demanded concerned parties to resolve the issue first and to make sure the project complies with the laws.

Malilong-Isberto also said ICTSI Foundation has yet to sign a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the government to put on paper the details of what it seeks to do on the NPF property.

Resigned NPF executive director Lucille Karen Malilong-Isberto

In a TV interview, Malilong-Isberto claimed the Department of Health never intended to transform the property in Parañaque into a vaccination facility, and accused the Department of Tourism of coercing the NPF board to give up the land to ICTSI Foundation.

“The only reason we can allow this is that it’s being used pursuant to an emergency. What’s the proof that it’s an emergency? We thought that it should be the DOH saying your land is needed for vaccination,” she said.

ICTSI Foundation said the new, temporary, and environmentally light vaccination facility has a design capacity to vaccinate as many as 10,000 to 12,000 people a day, roughly 300,000 a month. It will feature an ambulatory vaccination station and a drive-through area. 

The facility is designed by architect Jun Palafox, a renowned environmental planner, who is giving his services free of charge. 

“It must be put in context that one of the advocacies of the ICTSI Foundation is sustainable environmental protection,” ICTSI Foundation also said.

As the tug of war for the NPF land intensifies, it remains to be seen when the vaccination facility will begin construction. 

Against this backdrop, the Philippines continues to see a steady rise of COVID-19 cases—6,500 daily cases on the average—despite having the longest lockdown in the world.  – With reports from Elijah Felice Rosales