September 10, 2020 at 12:00 am
"That the project went ahead shows a lack of sensitivity and judgment that have triggered public outrage."
The plan to scatter “white sand” across a 500-meter stretch of Manila Bay shoreline to “beautify” it is like smearing a thin layer of sandwich spread on bread for no other benefit than an initial jolt of flavor.
Was there anything wrong in the first place with the Bay’s sands itself, apart from garbage? Photos show that the shoreline looked good after the trash cleanup, and the area does not naturally have white sand to begin with.
The 3,500 wet metric tons of the material brought in from Alcoy town, Cebu, is crushed dolomite rock for a “beach nourishment” project, said Department of Environment and Natural Resources Undersecretary Benny Antiporda.
He added that the baywalk is to be covered with a meter of the manufactured “white sand” that will “signify cleanliness.”
Antiporda also told ABS-CBN News last week that if Manileños can’t got to Boracay, Bohol, Palawan, or Cebu, provinces famous for their beach resorts, “ilalapit natin sa kanila ang white sand dito sa baywalk area” (we will bring the white sand to them here in the baywalk).
Spokesperson Harry Roque said the project, worth P389.8 million, would benefit the “mental health” of Manileños. In a briefing, he also said, “This beach enhancement is not just for beautification. This beach enhancement is to avoid soil erosion and help flood control.”
The side against
However, University of the Philippines Resilience Institute Executive Director Mahar Lagmay said storms and high tide may wash away the applied layer of crushed rock.
In an ANC interview he said that sand is “always transported from one place to the other,” and that “when the waves are high… all of the sand will be washed out and transported. He also tweeted that the “sand” will be "washed out from the coastline and brought to the bottom of deep water."
So much for flood control and soil erosion.
The Department of Health has noted the possible harmful effects of dolomite dust, including eye irritation and respiratory problems if inhaled and gastrointestinal if ingested.
Fisherfolk group Pamalakaya has called for the project to be terminated, citing its potential environmental harm. Youth environmental group Wavefarers has suggested that DENR instead plant mangroves, which help prevent erosion and filter heavy metals from the water.
Is it the best time for this?
Roque has said that the budget for the project was drawn up pre-COVID and that allocated funds may only be used for the intended purpose.
But many Filipinos, including Vice-President Leni Robredo, have slammed the project as insensitive and untimely, and not a priority during a pandemic.
Roman Catholic Bishop Broderick Pabillo of the Archdiocese of Manila has called the project “unresponsive to the needs of the poor,” saying plainly that if the DENR has money, it should go to the purchase of food.
With the current high unemployment rate, many are suffering. To know that nearly P400 million was spent for a non-essential project is infuriating and a reminder of similar useless initiatives in the past, particularly The Imeldific One’s band-aid beautification projects, where shanties were boarded up to hide them from public view.
Even Department of Education Secretary Leonor Briones, herself a government official, said in a Laging Handa briefing that her agency could use the money to fund distance-learning needs.
Speaking in Filipino, she said she is not interfering with the budget of other agencies, but if DepEd had that money, they would have used it for computers and other such equipment. The Department of Budget and Management, according to a Philstar report, recently turned down DepEd’s request for a P65 billion supplemental budget for initiatives such as the purchase of laptops for all public school teachers.
The money spent on sand could have been used for priority needs during this time. We have a saying: “Kapag gusto, may paraan,” our equivalent of ‘If there’s a will, there’s a way” -- why couldn’t the budget have been realigned instead?
That the project went ahead shows a lack of sensitivity and judgment that have triggered public outrage, necessitating a spin response on government’s part to justify it.
Something is being spread thick here, and it’s not just sand.
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