"How the bay area looks like, smells and moves is how the outside world will judge us."
Yesterday, Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Roy Cimatu hosted a Manila Bay stakeholders’ conference to discuss the terms of reference for the proper and responsible (finally) implementation of the 2008 Supreme Court orderfor the cleanup, rehabilitation and restoration of the 1984-square kilometer bay area with a 140-kilometer coastline extending all the way from Batangas in the south to Bataan in the north.
Considered the country’s “heartland,” the area is our administrative capital, hosts our major industrial, commercial and service enterprises and is home to over half of our growing population. It is the country’s “face” to the world, the mirror of our soul and standing as a nation. Inevitably, how the Manila Bay area looks like, smells and moves is how the outside world will judge us.
Thus, it was not surprising that after Secretary Cimatu made a preliminary presentation of the Manila Bay cleanup program, President Duterte immediately ordered that the same be undertaken with dispatch, instructing in the process the allocation of P47 billion to fund the enterprise over a five-year period. He also designated Cimatu and DILG Secretary Eduardo Año as the principal convenors of a soon-to-be established Task Force to include at least 21 national and local government agencies and business, civic and people’s organizations in an effort to mobilize all stakeholders in this enormous undertaking. It is well that the co-convenors are steeped in strategic, organized mobilization having served as armed forces chief at some point in their careers.
As gleaned from the reports, they have divided the entire area into four sectors and made an inventory of the main sources of waste flowing to or being thrown into the bay area starting with the most visible and essentially violated areas along Roxas Boulevard/R10 from Parañaque in the south to Manila (Smokey Mountain) in the north. In the first “walk through” done by Secretary Cimatu and members of the task group tracing the waste water flow along the Estero San Antonio Abad down to theoutfall at the Manila Yacht Club, it was obvious that establishments in the area were either discharging their waste directly to the estero
without any treatment or if such “cleaning” was undertaken at all it was inadequate to say the least. And we are talking here of government assets—Manila Zoo and its improvements as well as malls, eateries and private offices which were supposed to be inspected regularly by the sanitary inspectors of each and every local government unit or even the DENR itself. And we are just talking here of one estero in a very limited area (not even one square kilometer) along a very small (not even 500 meters) portion of the main thoroughfare facing the bay. And just the sewage flow at that.
Multiply that with the hundreds if not thousands of esteros
, canals and waterways in the entire bay area, the thousands of establishments and millions of households and you will have an idea of the gargantuan task faced by the task force in the effort to reverse years of neglect and restore the Manila Bay area to its earlier state as one of the most beautiful bays in the world. It is abundantly clear as well that government cannot do the clean up alone. This is an undertaking which should involve all and not just those in the bay area but the entire country if we are to make this truly a legacy program we can all be proud of. Which is why the all-stakeholders conference convened by Secretary Cimatu yesterday is a most welcome first step in this journey of a thousand steps for a cleaner, better and more livable bay area.
Saving jobs, saving Hanjin
That the huge Hanjin shipbuilding/shipyard complex in Subic is one operation we can ill afford to go under is beyond question. At its peak, the facility employed 30,000 workers many of them highly skilled, brought in millions of dollars in foreign exchange revenue, hundreds of millions in taxes, jumpstarted the establishment of a network of suppliers and small enterprises in the Subic/Olongapo area and pushed the country as the fourth-largest shipbuilding nation in the world. In conjunction with our much sought after seafarers (we have 300,000 at any given time manning the global shipping industry), Hanjin and the other ship builders in Balamban, Cebu and even our smallish shipyards in Navotas and Batangas were well on the way to leveling up the country to being a truly principal maritime nation. But like all such huge undertakings there comes a time when turbulence comes. This is one of them and we are now faced with a Hanjin under receivership.
Although the $440-million debt issue surrounding Hanjin’s petition for court-approved receivership will not in any manner or form affect the health of the country’s banking system contrary to the fears raised by some people who should know better, it remains a problem which government must engage to resolve. It is well that the consortium of bank lenders have come around to advise that they have, together with the relevant government agencies, banded together to iron out a possible “rescue” operation. That should be worked out with all permissible dispatch. I have no doubt that the consortium and government will be able to secure some kind of a solution sooner than later.
The more immediate task at this point is how to save the remaining jobs still available at the shipyard and, yes, the proper and responsible termination of those who have been working at the facility for years.
It behooves government as well as enterprises, in and around Subic/Olongapo, including the SBMA, to prioritize these workers in their search for new openings. Perhaps the DOLE can help fast track the process of reintegrating these workers into the job market by having the inventory of those employed loaded into their placement websites the better for possible employers to take their pick. What may save the situation is the government’s accelerated “Build, Build, Build” program, especially in the Central and Northern Luzon areas where I presume most of the Hanjin workers live. The training and retraining programs may also be of help as well as the continuing call for overseas work. At this point, without compromising on other concerns such as security saving jobs while saving Hanjin has become a gauge of how well we—but government in particular—respond to crisis situations such as what befell this once-mighty shipbuilder.