Manila Bay cleanup

Following the more or less successful rehabilitation of Boracay is the massive cleanup done last weekend of parts of the Manila Bay, restoring to the area its sandy, beachy glory.

The before and after photos are remarkable. The formerly garbage-strewn shores are now pristine, full of tourists romping and building sand castles. “May buhangin pala dito!” a netizen commented on Twitter. 

The cleanup was led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources,  with similar efforts to be exerted in Pampanga, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Bataan in Region III, and Cavite in Region IV-A. 

To  maintain cleanliness, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, through its Memorandum Circular 2019-09, requires 5,714 barangays along and near Manila Bay to perform followup cleaning on a weekly basis, complete with documentation. 

A Supreme Court continuing mandamus from December, 2008 orders local governments and agencies to “reduce the amount of solid waste ending up in bodies of water and waterways which lead to the Manila Bay,” in a bid to “reduce the pollution levels in Manila Bay to an acceptable range,” according to Ralf Rivas in Rappler. 

He added that “the mandamus will only be lifted once fecal bacteria content is brought down to less than 100 units per cubic meter,” the ‘swimmable’ level. Current bacteria levels are “as high as 1 billion units per cubic meter,” according to DENR.

Manila Bay’s new look is the result of the efforts of 5,000 volunteers and government workers who took away 45.59 tons of trash in 11 garbage trucks last Sunday (Jan. 27), Day 1 of the rehabilitation program.

Why did Manila Bay’s condition deteriorate so badly over the years? 

For one, previous government officials ignored the environmental impact of the 40,000 families living near the area. Their regular activities, said DENR, caused much of the pollution in the bay. 

For another, establishments in the area that were draining polluted water into the bay were not compelled to desist. Several have now been shut down for violating the Clean Air and Water Act of 2004.

And for some reason, the local government and agencies responsible for the maintenance of cleanliness in the area were neglectful. Instead of regularly cleaning up the shoreline, they allowed it to degenerate into an unsightly trash dump. 

Considering that the mandamus was issued 10 years ago, why is it only now that we got results on this matter?

The administration’s iron hand in the Boracay rehab served as an example and inspiration to some, showing that such actions can be undertaken with the exertion of political will. Kudos are due to DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu, who wielded a strong arm in getting the Manila Bay cleanup accomplished. 

Philippine Star’s Bobit Avila said in a recent column that in a meeting with government officials, Cimatu took a “no nonsense approach” and did not accept excuses. He “presented a comprehensive action plan” with short-, medium-, and long-term components, to cost P47 billion with P36 billion of that allocated to implement the transfer of and provide allowances and housing for informal settlers along waterways, including esteros around the city. 

The plan sounds good. In fact, so does anything to do with cleaning up the environment in urban areas to mitigate risk during inclement weather and provide healthier surroundings. 

However, several sectors are asking for a suspension of the program. 

Some progressive lawmakers said more studies need to be done regarding the impact of the cleanups on marginalized communities living in the area.

Urban poor group Kadamay (Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap) attributed a nefarious motive to the rehabilitation—that it could be a coverup for land reclamation projects. The group’s chairperson Gloria “Ka Bea” Arellano said Tuesday in the statement that behind it all is a plot to sell territory to large corporations “gaya sa China.”

Just as in Boracay, environmental cleanups come at a human cost. In Boracay, jobs were lost, income was lost. In terms of economics the province has not regained its former footing. Some claim that drainage constructions were not properly carried out. 

Similarly, the proposed transfer of settlers from Manila Bay and other waterways causes concern for their livelihood and future.  

In the Boracay and Manila Bay cleanups, swift decision led to quick action that gave positive results. But underneath, resentments are festering, just like the garbage that not too long ago was rotting on the shores of Manila Bay.

Still, it is undeniable that much progress was made in bringing Manila Bay back to some semblance of its former beauty. Let’s hope this is not a ‘ningas-cogon’ effort and that Cimatu’s plan will eventually make the waters of the bay good for swimming again. 

*** My Manila is the Pearl of the West Philippine Sea. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO 

Topics: Department of Environment and Natural Resources , Department of the Interior and Local Government , Ralf Rivas , Rappler , Clean Air and Water Act
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