How to rehabilitate Manila Bay

"Economic development and social uplift must transpire simultaneously with environmental protection and cultural advancement."

In 1975, environmental planner Architect Felino “Jun” Palafox and colleagues from the Planning and Project Development Office of the Department of Public Works, Transportation, and Communication unveiled the Manila Bay Metropolitan Region Strategic Plan.

They emphasized the importance of not only focusing on the metropolitan area but targeting the provinces and cities beyond. This is why the MBMR comprises Manila and the provinces of Rizal, Cavite, Batangas, Laguna, Bulacan, Pampanga, Bataan, and Zambales.

Back in 1975, planners had identified how economic development and social uplift must transpire simultaneously with environmental protection and cultural advancement. Until today, Manila Bay holds a primary role in the Philippines’ economic growth as the area.

 The National Capital Region and Regions 3 and 4 contribute approximately 55 percent of the nation’s output of goods and services or GDP. The bulk of Philippine trade goes through the port of Manila.

Manila Bay, therefore, is the heart and economic lifeblood of the nation. However, there are 250,000 squatter families or 1.25-million peoplealong the bay’s 190-km shoreline. 

That scales up the cost of rehabilitation and eats up a substantial chunk of the P47-billion budgeted for cleanup. Palafox laments that in spite of its economic and cultural endowment, Manila Bay’s environment has been deteriorating at an alarming rate. 

It is severely polluted with marine, domestic, industrial, and commercial waste—threatening marine life and the livelihoods primarily dependent on theBay’s resources. Per recent water samples tested by the DENR, Manila Bay’s coliform level is 330 million MPN—exceptionally way beyond the acceptable level of less than 100 MPN! Palafox estimates rehab of Manila Bay could take at least five years, and the government agencies and LGUs tasked with rehabilitating Manila Bay need all the help they can get from the private and social sectors.

Palafox has some ideas on how to clean up Manila Bay. First, the formulation of a comprehensive master plan  is immensely crucial. Rehabilitation must be cohesive, integrated into an overall framework.

Do not focus on the metropolitan region alone because this would not address the root causes of environmental degradation in adjacent areas. Second, stricter environmental regulations must also be implemented in Pasig River, Laguna Lake, San Juan River, Marikina River, and Pampanga River because a great number of violators can be foundhere, and waste disposed on these bodies of water flow into Manila Bay.

Third, waterfronts. The waterfront is a major community resource, there must be urban waterfront developments that can enhance people’s quality of life in all aspects. 

Esplanades, promenades, and linear parks are great waterfront public spaces that have an invigorating effect to a city’s image and sense of place. These structures should be walkable, bikable, and well-lit with minimal environmental impact, ultimately enhancing community health and development while interconnecting our fragmented metropolis.

“Remarkable public spaces are what make cities great,” notes Palafox. He cites the Central Park in New York, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Las Ramblas in Barcelona, and Trafalgar Square in London.

Among the world’s best waterfronts are Amsterdam’s and Denmark’s picturesque waterways, Venice’s famous canals, Sydney Harbour, the Bay of Naples, Dubai’s waterfront developments, and the French Riviera’s famous beachfronts. “We should follow best practices abroad where waterfronts, including inland waterways, are treated as prime locations and can be enjoyed by all­—not as places for waste disposal,” insists Palafox.

Fourth, the triple bottomline—people first, planet Earth, and then the economy. Informal settlers near the waterfront of Manila Bay and other waterways should be relocated and provided with decent housing.

Fifth, easements. Once the waterfront is cleared, standard easements should be strictly applied: 50 meters for the coastline of Manila Bay, 10 meters for all rivers, and 3.5 meters for esteros or estuaries.

Sewage treatment plants and sewer interceptors can lower the coliform level, and establishments must be connected to sewer pipelines that will collect sewage before reaching the waterways. In terms of connectivity, the Manila Bay Metropolitan Region has high development.

Sixth, establish a more efficient water transportation system that can improve accessibility and linkage between regions. Pasig River and Pampanga River can be redredged, so these can be more navigable.

Well-known major waterways that were dredged to improve navigation of commercial shipping are the Thames River, Dubai Creek, and the Suez Canal.Palafox’s recommendations can help Manila Bay’s rehabilitation to become more sustainable well into the future for the present and coming generations to enjoy.

In its 2008 ruling mandating Manila Bay’s cleanup (G.R. Nos. 171947-48), the Supreme Court said: At the core of the case is the Manila Bay, a place with a proud historic past, once brimming with marine life and, for so many decades in the past, a spot for different contact recreation activities, but now a dirty and slowly dying expanse mainly because of the abject official indifference of people and institutions that could have otherwise made a difference.

The high court cited these laws and principles to assert its right in ordering the cleanup of Manila Bay: (1) Respondents constitutional right to life, health, and a balanced ecology; (2) The Environment Code (PD 1152); (3) The Pollution Control Law (PD 984); (4) The Water Code (PD 1067); (5) The Sanitation Code (PD 856); (6) The Illegal Disposal of Wastes Decree (PD 825); (7) The Marine Pollution Law (PD 979); (8) Executive Order No. 192; (9) The Toxic and Hazardous Wastes Law (Republic Act No. 6969); (10) Civil Code provisions on nuisance and human relations; (11)The Trust Doctrine and the Principle of Guardianship; and (12) International Law

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Topics: Tony Lopez , Manila Bay , Architect Felino “Jun” Palafox
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