The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Wednesday said experts from the University of the Philippines-Diliman have “no right” to criticize the use of synthetic white sand for a beautification project at the Manila Bay.
The UP Marine Science Institute earlier took the DENR to task for using synthetic white sand and instead said it was willing to help the DENR in a “science-based rehabilitation program for Manila Bay,” where mangroves may be planted.
DENR Undersecretary and spokesperson Benny Antiporda, however, said the mangroves would “destroy the landscape.”
“Hindi ho magandang tingnan and at the same time, hindi ho mabubuhay salugar na ito iyong mangrove,” he said during the Laging Handa public briefing.
Meanwhile, Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta on Wednesday expressed satisfaction with the implementation by concerned government agencies of various projects to rehabilitate the waters of Manila Bay.
Peralta, who chairs the Manila Bay Advisory Committee, issued the statement after meeting with Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu and other agencies regarding their compliance of the continuing mandamus issued by the Supreme Court to implement measures to rehabilitate the body of water.
According to the Chief Justice, the meeting was part of the quarterly assessment being undertaken by the MBAC with regard to the Manila Bay rehabilitation project, which is covered by a continuing mandamus issued by the high court in 2011.
“We came here to observe and determine how far they have gone with the observation, obedience to the continuing mandamus.” Peralta told reporters.
Antiporda also defended the project from yet another claim that the crushed dolomites used in the Manila Bay are being washed away by the rains.
Antiporda said the dolomites are not being washed out, but the black sands are being “washed in.”
“As of now, wala pong nawa-wash out. Wash in po ang nangyayari. Pumapasok po ang buhangin na itim. Hindi po lumalabas ang buhangin na puti,” he said.
Antiporda said the DENR has paid about P500 million to UP experts since 2016 for consultations.
“Ang UP po sa pagkaalam natin, dapat libre iyan. Bakit kayo naniningil sagobyerno matapos kayong pag-aralin ng taong-bayan... sipsipin n’yo ang dugo ng taumbayan sa dami ng kinuha n’yong pondo. Tapos ngayon gumagawa kami ng maganda, kailangan magbayad kami sa inyo?” he asked.
“Hindi n’yo karapatang batikusin ito dahil bayaran kayo. Iyon lang po ang masasabi ko sa UP. Uulit-ulitin ko: bayaran kayo.”
But Dr. Laura David of the UP-MSI said the state university has a mandate to teach, research and render public service.
She said experts have received P364 million from the government in the past 10 years for “10 projects in collaboration with DENR and co-sponsorship support for a symposium.”
“However, some questions and problems cannot be addressed without conducting research in the field or laboratory experiments so as to come up with science-based answers or to develop local capabilities,” David added.
The UPMSI also clarified that their services were for free, but their “clients” must foot the bill for other research expenses.
David said the UPMSI is not a line agency in the government’s executive branch, and its internal Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) “are limited to maintaining the laboratory facilities and field equipment in Diliman and the Bolinao Marine Laboratory.”
“The cost of scientific research and investigation, from the use of laboratories and research equipment and facilities, to support for research assistants, should be, as they actually are shouldered by the clients, as the UPMSI is not a line agency in the government’s executive branch,” it said.
“Moreover, all of the UPMSI’s research and development activities are project-based, with very specific fund disbursement guidelines and limitations. The internal Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses funds of UPMSI are limited to maintaining the laboratory facilities and field equipment in Diliman and the Bolinao Marine Laboratory,” it added.
Fishers group PAMALAKAYA national chairperson Fernando Hicap, who disapproved of the project from the start, urged Antiporda to “stop making a fool of himself” by defending the controversial project.
“Wash out or wash in, it doesn’t matter. What’s certain is that the dolomite white sand would fade away somehow,” Hicap said.
The fishers group demanded that Antiporda address the environmental concerns being raised “fair and square.”
“Otherwise, he is just exposing himself as a complete ignorant to environmental science, and only good in being a mouthpiece,” Hicap said.
According to Antiporda, the contractor for the project can only be questioned when the project is already completed.
“We can wait for them to finish the project. In the first place, hindi pa rin po naman bayad ‘yan ng buo dahil hindi pa po tapos ang proyekto,” he said.
“Kapag natapos po ang proyekto, that’s the time po bago natin tanungin sila kung ano ang nangyari,” he added.
Peralta presided over the meeting held at Diamond Hotel in Manila and attended by MBAC members namely SC Associate Justices Rodil Zalameda, Mario Lopez, Edgardo delos Santos and Ricardo Rosario, Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez and other government stakeholders.
After the meeting, Peralta along with other government officials inspected the bay area including the part covered with dolomite sand.
The chief magistrate noted that based on the report submitted to the MBAC and based on his observation the water coming out from the waste water treatment is now clean.
“But what we can say about Manila Bay, it’s already clean. All the waters that go to the bay from the esteros are already clean. So in other words, the purpose of the continuing mandamus is having clean water and if you will ask me if I am satisfied, I am satisfied because the waters are clean,” Peralta said.
The top magistrate admitted that he and his fellow justices were impressed with the DENR’s presentation about their rehabilitation works in Manila Bay during the meeting.
In its report, DENR discussed the clean-up activities currently being undertaken by concerned agencies. These include the removal of garbage in the river systems, esteros (drainage canals) and water quality improvement, among others. The DENR said it has also hired estero rangers who are specifically tasked to clean up esteros and disseminate information regarding solid waste management.
The DENR also implemented the so-called Project Kubeta Ko, or the strategic putting up of clean public toilets in nearby areas.
When asked about the environmental impact of the dumping of the controversial dolomite sand on a portion of Manila Bay, Peralta declined to comment due to the pending petition seeking to cite the DENR in contempt for dumping dolomite sand in Manila Bay is still pending before the SC, and he would be violating the rule on sub judice.
Peralta said he was also assigned as the justice-in-charge of the petition, which would be deliberated on November 3.
But the chief magistrate asked the DENR to submit scientific studies and findings as to the effects of dolomite to people.
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