Interior Secretary Eduardo Año defended the Manila Bay beautification project anew, saying criticisms against the program were “misplaced.”
Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya also said the project was only worth P28 million, contrary to the P389 million posted in earlier reports.
“Once the project is completed, we invite the public to enjoy the rehabilitated and nourished beach and see for themselves if it is harmful,” Año, vice chair of the Manila Bay Task Force, said in a statement Saturday.
The Environment chief said dolomite, which was used as artificial white sand to beautify the Manila Bay beach, “is a common material used in beach nourishment” in resorts around the world.
Meanwhile, Malaya said: “That already covers the price of dolomite sand, transportation cost, taxes, and other fees. That’s the package of the cost including delivery from Cebu to Manila Bay. It’s not P389 million but P28 million.”
This developed as an opposition leader in the House of Representatives on Saturday thumbed down the construction of the “mini-Boracay” at the Baywalk in Manila Bay, citing health and safety concerns.
House Deputy Minority leader and Probinsyano Ako party-list Rep. Jose Singson Jr. said he is worried over public health dangers posed by the dumping of crushed dolomite at Manila Bay.
Singson said Manila Mayor Isko Domagoso “may have failed to understand the implications of the public health warnings from experts” with the dumping of crushed dolomite as part of the beautification plan to rehabilitate Manila Bay.
“Yorme Isko must realize that people stopped going to Manila Bay because the stink of garbage and human waste have become unbearable. I don’t see any reason why they would start going back there if what they will get is a whiff of cancerous fumes,” the lawmaker said.
Singson agreed that the rehabilitation of Manila Bay is of utmost importance, “but this should not come at the expense of public health and wanton wastage of people’s money.”
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources had said the white sand project was funded through a special purpose fund under the 2019 General Appropriations Act intended for the rehabilitation of Manila Bay.
“The project was approved by Congress under the 2019 General Appropriations Act, it underwent competitive bidding under RA 9184 and was awarded prior to the global pandemic. The government cannot simply stop a project when it is already under contractual obligation to proceed. We also have a responsibility to clean up and rehabilitate Manila Bay for ourselves and future generations,” added Malaya.
He also claimed the project did not affect the government’s coronavirus pandemic response, as critics said the funds for it would have been better used to buy vaccines or personal protective equipment.
“We urge the critics to study the issue first before they make baseless allegations against worthwhile government projects. We welcome any investigation into this project whether in the courts of justice or in the court of public opinion. All this criticism is misplaced,” Malaya said.
But storms and the high tide could wash away the artificial white sand that the government dumped around Manila Bay, a scientist had said.
Sand is “always transported from one place to the other” along beaches because “there’s a lot of energy that makes the materials move,” said University of the Philippines Resilience Institute executive director Mahar Lagmay.
“If you put white sand in that place, chances are during storms and during high tide, when the waves are high… all of the sand will be washed out and transported,” he told ANC.
Cebu, where the artificial white sand was sourced, has since banned the extraction of dolomite.