Bay project probe set

Move backs Makabayan bloc reso to look into its cost, timing

The House of Representatives will investigate the P384-million project to dump synthetic white sand onto the shoreline of Manila Bay, a lawmaker said Wednesday.

Bay project probe set
NEAR AND FAR. Workers continue to lay down the crushed dolomite used to whiten the beach at the Manila Baywalk (inset) while on the southern end of the bay near the Manila Yacht Club, a fisherman gets ready to set out for his daily catch on the waterway. Norman Cruz
Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. of Dasmariñas City in Cavite, chairman of the House committee on natural resources, said the investigation will allow the public and legislators to hear all sides of the issue—government proponents, stakeholders, as well as those who oppose the project.

The move supports House Resolution 1194 filed by the six-man Makabayan bloc, which directs the chamber to inquire into “the suitability and sustainability to the Manila Bay Reclamation Program” of the shoreline filling project spearheaded by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DPWH).

Those who oppose the project, lawmakers and environmental groups alike, have complained about its cost, its timing—in the middle of a pandemic—as well as health concerns over the crushed dolomite being used as overlay to the existing black sand.

Barzaga did not say when the hearings would be held, which would have to be scheduled by the House Committee on Rules, but already began defending the project.

The lawmaker said that at a budget hearing Tuesday, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu was able to defend the project by presenting documents proving that it was aboveboard and had been a well thought-out part of the government’s rehabilitation plan for Manila Bay (see related story below -- Editors).

However, Cebu province — the source of the synthetic white sand — had banned the extraction of dolomite from the hills of Alcoy town to prevent a repeat of the landslides in 2018 that killed 77 people, a provincial government official said Wednesday.

Legal management consultant Marino Martinquilla told ABS-CBN News that Cebu officials did not give any permit and were not consulted on the dolomite mining in Alcoy, which was allowed by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau under the Environment department.

Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, who ordered a halt to the dolomite extraction on Tuesday, is hoping to avert a repeat of the landslide that claimed the lives of limestone miners and residents in Naga, Cebu, Martinquilla noted.

Garcia has also ordered a ground and aerial survey of Alcoy to determine the extent of mining in the town, he added.

Barzaga said Cimatu told lawmakers during the budget hearing that the project had been conceptualized even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bidding for the project was done in late 2019, he said, with the execution scheduled for January 2020.

Barzaga said the biggest beneficiary for the project is the government through increased domestic and foreign tourism.

“Projects like this are necessary investment in infrastructure since they will generate more income for the government, that will, in the final tally, be abl to give more benefits for the poor and those adversely affected by the pandemic,” Barzaga said

However, Deputy Speaker Bernadette Herrera questioned the priorities of the government, saying: “Before we talk about the white sand, I would rather know their plans for the sewer and water treatment of Manila Bay. Having a mini Boracay is okay if it includes the water and sewage treatment, just like Boracay.”

“The white sand should be secondary,” Herrera added.

Earlier, the leftist Makabayan bloc denounced the project as “artificial rehabilitation” that focused on aesthetics rather than addressing the environmental degradation of Manila Bay.

They said the project might destroy not only the natural ecosystem in Manila Bay but also the source of the synthetic white sand, made from crushed dolomite.

They also cited the possible health hazard posed by crushed dolomite.

During the budget hearing Tuesday, Cimatu said the effort to rehabilitate Manila Bay was in response to the writ of mandamus issued by the Supreme Court to the government to clean up the body of water.

The DENR is planning to cover 500 meters of the Baywalk on Roxas Boulevard with white sand under the Manila Bay Rehabilitation Program.

Meanwhile the Department of Health (DOH) said the crushed dolomite used in Manila Bay was too large to cause any health problems.

In a statement, the department said dolomite, in its bulk state, is not a known health hazard. In its dust form, like any other dust particle, it can be an irritant that can lead to chest discomfort, shortness of breath, and coughing.

“As stated by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the dolomite material that is being used in Baywalk is 2-5 mm or 100 times bigger that dust, therefore does not get suspended in air. Moreover, occupational health and safety standards for workers, and precautionary measures for the containment of possible dust formation are being implemented,” the DOH said in a statement.

Despite the criticism of the project, the DENR said it would not stop dumping crushed dolomite onto the 500-meter stretch of Manila Bay.

In an interview over radio dzBB, Undersecretary Benny Antiporda said the rehabilitation of the Manila Bay has long been overdue, and that the cease-and-desist order of Cebu Governor Garcia to stop the mining of dolomite is an internal matter between the provincial government and the mining contractor.

“There is no stopping. Work (in the area) continues,” he said.

Also on Wednesday, o pposition Senator Leila De Lima slammed the DENR, saying the project to make Manila Bay look like Boracay will be done as the rest of the country is still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.

She also said that the people are too stressed, tired, broke, and jobless to even care that the color of the sand on Manila Bay is black.

The DENR, she added, is supposed to protect the environment, not to artificially change it by creating a white sand beach where previously there was none.

She said environmentalists agree that it is not proper practice to replace the naturally occurring sand on a beach with a totally different kind of sand from another beach that is not part of the beach’s ecosystem.

“DENR’s mandate is rehabilitation, preservation and protection of our environment. It is not a beach resort developer,” said De Lima.

“Listening to Malacañang try to spin this colossal waste of public funds is both laughable and infuriating,” she added.

Topics: House of Representatives , white sand , Manila Bay , Elpidio Barzaga Jr.
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