Saving the bay

"See what political will can do?"



Believe it or not: When I was a pre-schooler and until I entered primary school, we could go for a swim in the clear waters of Manila Bay, at the spot (since reclaimed) where the road to the domestic airport intersects then Dewey Boulevard.

Later, we could still swim at the Malibu Beach resort in Parañaque, before Las Piñas. And in high school days, Noveleta in Cavite was yet a popular destination for week-end swimmers.  Now the sand has turned to mud (burak). 

Farther off in college, Tanza was still good enough for swimming (and all-night drinking).  Now, even Matabungkay in Batangas is no longer the pristine white sand and pink coral beach it once was.

What has happened since?

Into Manila Bay empties Pasig River, which is connected to several esteros or canals which in the 19thcentury was still used as a river transport system for produce coming from the nearby provinces of Bulacan and Pampanga in the north as well as Rizal and Laguna in the south.  Even Pres. Cory Aquino’s grandfather, a Chinese rice merchant in Malolos, Bulacan, used to sendcascos laden with rice using the Malolos River, towards Manila Bay, and into theestero beside what is now the Divisoria market.

The esteros no longer serve any transport purpose, except to ferry passengers through man-made and rope-hauled barges from one side of the smelly waterway to the other side, as in Binondo and Divisoria. Why, even the President of the Republic has to suffer the stench of the Pasig while being ferried by a motor launch between his office in Malacañang Palace to his official residence inside Malacañang Park.

At certain times of the year, even the garbage thrown by mindless residents into the streams and tributaries of Cavite and Batangas are carried by currents into Manila Bay, like some kind of a water closet flush bringing detritus into a septic tank.

The “premier” city of Manila and even Pasay are serviced by an MWSS sewerage system, much of it built even as far back as the 19thcentury, expanded during the 20thby colonial masters. Through the years, there have been patchwork improvements, mostly for flood control purposes, built in Manila, Pasay, the reclamation areas, even Malabon and Navotas.

But all these, it is clear, are not enough to clean the bay which boasts of a magnificent sunset, especially in the months of December until February when the orange orb of a dying sun is at full glory before it buries itself into the horizon to welcome the envelope of dark.

That is another direct effect of population gone haywire due to uncontrolled births and unmitigated migration from poor provinces to what used to be “rich” mega-Manila.

Rep. Lito Atienza, a three-term mayor of Manila from 1998 till 2007, asks the now-private water concessionaires, Manila Water and Maynilad, why they have not yet constructed new sewerage systems complete with state-of-the-art wastewater treatment systems for the metropolis.  Instead, Maynilad Water for instance offers free septic tank sludge extraction should household customers request the same.  Oh, those small mercies.

But first, how many know about this service which is not widely disseminated?  Second, where does the water concessionaire throw the sludge?

Weeks back, the DENR announced that it would start the Herculean task of cleaning up Manila Bay, until it becomes “swimmable” once again.  And after a week of removing tons and tons of garbage floating in the nearby sections of Manila Bay, residents “discovered” that there was a beachfront after all in some portions beside the Roxas Boulevard baywalk.

True to form, many Manilenos started flocking to the newly discovered “beach” to bathe just before the Lunar New Year, even if the same is yet prohibited.  Tigas talaga ng mga ulo!

And in their wake, left garbage and plastic bags behind.  See how difficult the job is for DENR and other government agencies involved in the massive clean-up and rehabilitation effort?

Some noise was generated by the “cease and desist” order for Gloria Maris at the CCP complex and the iconic Aristocrat in Roxas Boulevard.  In the case of the latter, it was discovered that they were actually releasing wastewater to the M.H.del Pilar sewerage pipe of Maynilad, because that was where the pipes were located, since at the time the Aristocrat was constructed, no pipelines were embedded underneath the Roxas side, which sits on reclaimed land.

But beyond apprehending certain establishments in the bay area, the task of cleaning Manila Bay is a much, much bigger project, and we ought to thank President Duterte for ordering the cleanup.  That restoration project will not be finished within his term which ends in 2022, but he and his officials must proceed without let-up, and produce tangible results that will make it an irreversible program, no matter who succeeds Duterte.

This brings to mind what Mayor Bayani Fernando, and then his wife Marides, did for Marikina.  The renewal and re-development efforts were so tangible and beneficial for Marikina residents that even if the couple are no longer at the city’s helm, successors could not but pursue the program.

The Manila Bay restoration and rehabilitation project is a lot more difficult because it would require the relocation of thousands of informal settler families living in the banks of esteros and rivers, as well as the communities in the Manila Bay shoreline, from Navotas in the north to Cavite City in the south.

Secretaries Cimatu and Ano should implement the President’s directive without let-up and compel the mayors of the towns and cities that contribute to the mega-cesspool that is Manila Bay to do their part.  The same goes for Laguna Lake Development Authority CEO Joey Medina, the former mayor of Pateros.

It is one lasting legacy that future ge erations will be grateful for, if sustained.  See what political will can do?                                                       

  * * *

As this article comes out on Feb. 6, let me greet our readers “Kiong Hee Fa Tsai” as we enter the Year of the Earth Pig.

The Pig is the last animal in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese Zodiac.  While generally the pig is a symbol of plenty and prosperity, this year is predicted to be a bit more challenging than the preceding Year of the Dog.

Topics: Manila Bay , Maynilad Water , Bayani Fernando , Pasig River , Malibu Beach
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