"Our environment problems are complex and there are no easy solutions."
The government effort to clean up Boracay and Manila Bay started a trend which could have gained more traction if not for the pandemic. This is the realization not only by the public but also the local officialdom of the importance and need of environmental protection and a clean and livable community. Boracay is now up to par and the Manila Bay is much cleaner than it used to be. There are clean-up crews cleaning the Pasig River and the Bay every day.
We know, however, that this will not do the trick. What we need is a lasting and permanent solution. This should be the focus of people looking at the clean-up effort and not only on the so-called white beach — because that is only a small portion of the overall project. What are needed are more investments, better technical know-how, hard work and the determination to prevent sewer and solid wastes from discharging into the Bay.
Any effort will also be doubly harder unless we can prevent people from constructing their makeshift houses along creeks and river banks. Only then can we declare victory.
We can learn from the way other metropolitan areas were able to clean their river systems. Cases in point are the River Thames along London, the Bosporus Strait in Istanbul, and Tokyo Bay. Our environmental officials may want to visit these places to find out how these metropolitan areas were able to clean their waterways and keep it clean.
The Pasig River is the biggest river that discharges into Manila Bay. Unless we clean it up, the bay will never be clean. But its source, which is Laguna Lake, is also polluted already. So, unless Laguna Lake is cleaned, Pasig River will never be as clean as we would want it. A thorough survey and study of the whole Manila Bay area should be considered before a bigger government effort is undertaken. That is what we need if we want long-term success.
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In addition to the Manila Bay clean-up effort are the almost-daily clearing operations being undertaken by some metro-area local government units. It is painful to see some of our less fortunate fellow citizens sleeping on sidewalks, on center islands, under and beside bridges and on dilapidated sidecars of tricycles parked along the road. It highlights the stark contrast of life in the National Capital Region between the ultra-rich and those living in abject poverty.
Yet, it has to be done if we want to be able to establish order on our streets and sidewalks. Judging from their numbers, the government must have underestimated how many people are living this way. There must also be a more humane way of doing it than simply confiscating everything they possess and leaving them exactly where they are found. Perhaps, the clearing teams should include DSWD personnel so that data could be gathered by interviewing these people to come out with a more holistic approach to the problem. Knowing where they come from and how long they have been street dwellers can be useful information. The teams should also be better equipped with overall uniforms and gloves for increased efficiency. The Roxas Boulevard dwellers for instance are one of a kind. They can sleep and go about their lives unmindful of the noise of the thousands of vehicles passing by.
Unfortunately, Manila Bay has also become their toilet. The immensity of the problem cannot therefore be overemphasized. This is the reason why prioritization of what to do is essential. Squatting for instance is not solely a Filipino phenomenon but is found in all countries in the developing world. Squatting is supposed to be a temporary condition. It is assumed that people can eventually improve their lives and graduate to proper homes. Many squatters in the Metro area, however, can live in squalid conditions for decades sometimes lasting 40 years. There is even one family living beside a bridge with an air conditioning unit. It makes one wonder why if they can afford air conditioning, they like living that way instead of renting a more decent abode.
All these show the complexity of the problem and demonstrates that there are really no easy and simple answers to the squatting phenomenon. What it is telling us is that in order for all of us to be able to live in an orderly, clean, and environmentally friendly community anywhere, the government will not only have to try much harder but must also convince people to believe in the effort and want it badly enough to participate in it. Otherwise, we will never be able to attain our goals.