Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia on Tuesday ordered a stop to mining operations in Alcoy town for the dolomite or powder-white sand used for the P389-million beautification project of the Manila Bay beach, which has drawn criticism from environmentalists and lawmakers alike.
This developed as Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu defended to Congress the use of crushed dolomite rocks to whiten the Manila Bay shoreline—even as Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said the project could be stopped if proven that dolomite dust is harmful to the public.
Manila Mayor Francisco "Isko" Domagoso on Tuesday also sought clarification from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on the possible health risks of crushed dolomite rocks, following a statement from Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire that inhalation of dolomite particles could cause respiratory problems.
But Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda, in an interview with radio dzBB, said the DENR will continue its effort of adorning the Manila Bay shoreline with white sand, even amid a potential legal challenge before the Supreme Court.
Through Executive Order No. 25, Garcia ordered the Philippine Mining Service Corp. (PMSC) and the Dolomite Mining Corp. (DMC) to "immediately cease and desist from further extracting, processing, selling and transporting of dolomite, associated mineral deposits, and other quarry resources."
The executive order also said both the provincial government of Cebu and the municipality of Alcoy were not informed of the beautification project in Manila.
There was also no public consultation prior to the issuance of ore transport permits by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, an agency under the DENR, in Central Visayas.
"The issuance of the OTPs to PMSC without the proper notice to the local government unit and the absence of public consultation and participation clearly lacks transparency on the part of MGB, PMSC and DMC," the order read.
Garcia's order added that such is a violation of DENR Administrative Order No. 2010-21, which states that the local government should ensure compliance with relevant laws on public notice, public consultation and public participation.
The order likewise said there was no Environmental Impact Study performed on the use of dolomite in the Manila Bay shoreline project.
"The absence of said Environmental Impact Study is a clear and blatant violation of DENR Administrative Order No. 2003-30, the Implementing Rules and Regulations of Presidential Decree No. 1586, Establishing the Philippine Environmental Impact Statement System," the order read.
The extraction of dolomite from Alcoy town and the "consequential damage it will cause the terrestrial environment of Cebu Island" is also a violation of the constitutional right of Cebu residents to "a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature."
But in Congress, Cimatu said the effort to rehabilitate Manila Bay was in response to the mandamus issued by the Supreme Court to the government to clean up the body of water.
"So this is what we're doing now, cleaning and improving the bad water quality there along with the water treatement plant we installed at the baywalk," he said.
Cimatu said it was not the first time that crushed dolomite rocks would be used for decorative purposes, as it was also the same material found in many resorts in Mactan, Cebu.
He added that dolomite rocks can also treat the pH level of water, from acidic to alkaline, and disputed claims that crushed dolomite is harmful when inhaled.
"What is hazardous is the fine silica quartz in some dolomite in the form of dust that is generated during crushing and screening, not the calcium or magnesium. Note that it is dust-size which is about 10 to 15 microns that is hazardous if inhaled for long periods of exposure without personal protective equipment," he said.
"However, the size of the dolomite in Baywalk is 2 to 5 millimeters or equivalent to 2,000 to 5,000 microns or 100 times bigger than dust and therefore not suspended in air and cannot be inhaled," he added.
Meanwhile, Año told CNN Philippines that government officials had discussed the supposed threat of dolomite to a person's health.
"Based on the presentation of Secretary Cimatu and of course there will be more discussion on this. But based on what we have learned, it really isn't harmful anymore, but I leave it to the experts," he said.
"We'll have more discussion on this and we'd like also to get the side of the [Department of Health] if they can really prove that it is harmful, and if so, then we can put a stop but for now I'm inclined to support really the [DENR]," he added.
The DENR is planning to fill 500 meters of the Baywalk on Roxas Boulevard with white sand under the Manila Bay Rehabilitation Program.
In a letter addressed to Cimatu, Domagoso said: "Pursuant to the faithful discharge of my duty to promote health and safety, enhance the right of the people to a balanced ecology and preserve the comfort and convenience of the city inhabitants, may we seek your clarification on this declaration of Usec. Vergeire to make sure that the health, comfort and convenience of the city inhabitants and other neighboring local government units are properly taken care of."
Meanwhile, Antiporda assured that marshals will be deployed by the DENR, while a police outpost will be in place for maintenance of the project.
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