Lawmakers joined environmental groups on Monday in urging the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to immediately suspend the filling of Manila Bay's shore with synthetic white sand made from crushed dolomite.
Senator Nancy Binay, citing a Department of Health warning, urged the DENR to stop the P385-million makeover, as the dust from dolomite, which will be used as a substitute for white sand, can cause adverse respiratory reactions, eye irritation and discomfort in the gastrointestinal system.
Dolomite is a type of mineral composed of calcium magnesium carbonate.
"It is a form of rock, which according to studies, if a person inhales it, it can have adverse reactions, respiratory mainly," Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said in a briefing.
"Using dolomite as a substitute for white sand only means that this did not pass the right process and study,” Binay said.
She noted there was no public consultation, no environmental clearance and no comprehensive plan on the project.
However, Malacanang on Monday defended the makeover, saying this would benefit the mental health of “millions of residents in Metro Manila” who had to go through a lockdown that lasted more than two months as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque also defended the project from critics who argue that funds for Manila Bay's rehabilitation could have been allotted to the government's COVID-19 response.
In defending the DENR rehabilitation plan, Roque said funds for the program were already allocated even before the COVID-19 pandemic started.
Manila Mayor Isko Domagoso also rejected calls to scrap the project, saying it was planned before the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We cannot just strike down a valid contract without violation of anything under the provision of that contract,” Domagoso told ABS-CBN in a mix of English and Filipino. “It won’t be good for the government to be an example of changing the rule in the middle of the ballgame.”
He said the DENR would know “better than anybody else” whether or not the project harms the environment and public health.
Still, Binay said the public deserved to be informed about the project's impact on the environment and public health.
"If the DENR indeed thinks of the welfare of the environment and the public, it is but proper for them to immediately stop the dumping of dolomite,” she said.
"In the right order of things, before this ornament, the DENR should first attend to the water quality of Manila Bay,” Binay added.
“It’s sad that instead of prioritizing the toilets in Baseco, they prioritized [funding] the white sand from Cebu,” Binay added.
Amid the public outcry over the Manila Bay controversy, the senator urged the DENR to release to the public the project’s budget and approved environmental impact statement in the interest of transparency.
Whether it’s a government or DENR project, Binay said there should be feasibility studies and a science-based plan.
The senator said even if it is a DENR project, they are not exempted from obtaining environmental clearance.
The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is a requirement mandated by law to all government agencies for every project or undertaking that significantly affects the environment.
It is a form of environmental impact assessment that details the possible effects of a project on the site where it would be implemented, as well as alternatives to the proposed action.
Meanwhile, a member of the provincial board in Cebu said they were kept in the dark about the use of dolomite from the municipality of Alcoy for the Manila Bay project.
Provincial Board Member John Ismael Borgoni told a radio interview that the DENR did not coordinate with the board for the project.
But Roque said the laying of “white sand” along Manila Bay was part of the 2020 national budget, that was approved last year. Under the budget rules, the fund allocation can only be used for its intended purpose.
“This forms part of the cleaning up of the Manila Bay Rehabilitation Program with an allocated budget, which began even before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Roque said in a press briefing.
He said the residents of the capital city need access to "beautiful" beaches even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Roque said the DENR would not have approved the “beach enhancement” of Manila Bay if it did not pass its environment impact assessment and would not benefit the nation.
The Palace official also said the white sand on the bay walk is primarily a "beautification" project and would not cause flooding in the area.
“This beach enhancement is to avoid soil erosion and to help in flood control. Although primarily this is a beautification project, this is also an anti-soil erosion project,” he said.
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