Trust Filipinos to turn even an alarming event into something hilarious. After photos began circulating online of people crowding a Roxas Boulevard overpass to get a glimpse of the new and improved “white-sand” Manila Bay beachfront, social media users dug up their own beach photos and made it appear that they were the center of all that attention, even during a pandemic.
At a time when the number of new COVID-19 infections still has to go down, the last thing we need are Filipinos venturing out of their homes in hordes and pushing up against each other to catch a glimpse of anything. But perhaps the new attraction, the now-controversial white sand that is part of Manila Bay’s makeover, is a game changer.
Who is to blame for this unfortunate overcrowding of white-sand enthusiasts?
An undersecretary for the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, Benny Antiporda, blames the critics of the white-sand project for luring people to the beach. If these critics of the cosmetic project, which cost taxpayers millions of pesos, didn’t drum up so much interest in the sands, then people would not have become so curious that they simply had to go out and defy health protocols just to see for themselves what the fuss was all about.
But did not Mr. Antiporda and the presidential spokesman, Harry Roque, specifically say that the white sands were supposed to boost Filipinos’ mental health and who said the government would bring them the beach experience even if they cannot afford to go to Boracay, Palawan or Bohol?
Were law enforcers to blame, as well? After all, the commander of the Ermita Police Station was relieved for failing to carry out security and health safety measures on the bayfront, even when his team saw the volume of people gathered at the overpass.
But who is to blame for the congregation of onlookers isn’t the main issue here.
That distinction goes to the questionable wisdom of using fake white sand–made from tons of crushed dolomite boulders—to “nourish,” as the DENR likes to say—the bayfront. Was this really a judicious use of taxpayers’ money?
The DENR was quick to blame critics for the Manila Bay gawkers, but was it not exactly its stated intention to draw people out of their quarantined existence and boost their mental health by taking in the view of the bay? Did it not consider the consequences of its actions?
We bear some of the responsibility, too, of course. Given the risk of contracting the coronavirus, especially among large crowds, what could possess anyone to defy reason, go out and be part of the sea of bodies looking at and taking pictures of the “white sand” beach?
Just because we can now move about more freely does not mean we have to. That is a decision we alone make, and we rise and fall with the consequences of our actions—in the same way we write our future with our votes during elections.