The uncleaning of Manila Bay – historical background

CROSSROADS (Toward Philippine Economic and Social Progress) - Gerardo P. Sicat - The Philippine Star

Let us give long-term historical perspective to the pollution problem of Manila Bay.

The recent public outcry and demand for the cleanup of Manila Bay is the result of decades of continued deterioration of the environmental health of Metro Manila and its bay since after the Second World War.

Prelude. That was when the Filipino people and their own government became the wards for the nurturing of their own land and seas. For, after July 1946, we became an independent country as scheduled.

The independence law of 1934, known in our history books as the Tydings-McDuffie Law had provided for the process of granting independence from American colonial possession.

Known officially in American annals as the Philippine Independence Act, or US Public Law 73-127, enacted on March 24, 1934, this law permitted a full trial period of complete self-government as the Commonwealth of the Philippines from 1936 to 1946 (except for defense and foreign policy). Complete independence by 1946 meant we would be totally in charge.

World War II destruction of infrastructure. But the Japanese occupation intervened as World War II led to the military occupation of the country at the close of 1941 until 1945.

The war occupation impoverished the nation badly. But it was the war of liberation from the enemy that caused the massive destruction of the city. Worse destruction happened south of the Pasig River, where the city drained its inner waters (including drainage) to Manila Bay.

According to American description of that damage after World War II, Manila was the most destroyed city, second only to Warsaw.

American forces abandoned the capital city in 1942 as an open city. The Japanese command, however, decided to dig in and defend Manila to the last man when American military forces closed on Manila from the north by early 1945.

The decision of the American military could have spared the mighty battle of Manila. A brilliant strategy of conquest of Japan concocted by the military planners in Washington favored the invasion of Formosa (the name of Taiwan, then a possession of Japan long before that war) and by-passing the Philippines.

General Douglas MacArthur, the field commander of the land forces in the Pacific, objected to this plan. He proposed the reconquest and liberation of the Philippines on military, strategic, and political grounds. He successfully argued and convinced President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the final military strategy discussion held in Hawaii (July, 1944). The conquest of Formosa was discarded in favor of the retaking of the Philippines.

During the occupation period, General MacArthur’s promise of “I shall return” was etched in the consciousness of many Filipinos. Clandestine US war supplies fed to Filipino guerillas carried that message. In addition to his military calculation, MacArthur’s argument might have been partly induced by personal hubris.

“The Liberation” was a high point of the war’s end as celebrated in our history books. Yet, less destruction and war Filipino civilian casualties would have happened had the Formosa invasion been carried out instead.

The major battles for the retaking of the country began in October 1944 (landing in Leyte). Eventually, the battle of Manila (Feb. 3-March 3, 1945) became the most destructive of the battles of the liberation.

The American military bombardment and destruction flattened major infrastructures and property especially south of the Pasig River. Fire consumed districts of housing and commercial blocks. Massacres by berserk Japanese soldiers losing the battle aggravated the large civilian losses.

The battle of Manila brought major destruction to the country’s premier city, the political and economic capital of the nation. The economic and social dislocations at the moment of the birth of national political independence brought about a train of new problems related to the reconstruction and development of the economy.

The foundations of pollution settle in. The leaders (national and local) of the newly independent republic faced unprecedented problems of nation-building that were confusing and overpowering.

Rapid economic rehabilitation efforts were undertaken immediately after the war and following political independence. War damage payments and large military spending and the recovery of the economy helped to finance the rehabilitation.

This attracted the influx of people from the provinces to Manila and its environs starved by lack of opportunities during the war years. These developments further expanded the economy of the country.

The economic growth of Manila and its environs would dominate and lead the growth of the nation as a whole. After the reconstruction boom of the immediate postwar period came the development of industries replacing old services and installing new ones.

The public works and city managements neglected the regulation of effluents. Soon, the draining of those effluents would poison the natural waterways with toxic waste, darkening and suffocating life in them.

Public works standards and bureaucracies suffered badly and the regulation and upkeep of facilities deteriorated. An outcome of this was confused implementation of public works between roads, transport networks, and flood control management.

In fact, public works construction not only neglected the drainage system, but also filled up some existing some waterways thought to be a hindrance toward land improvement.

The failure of standards was obviously an outcome of the experience and trauma of war destruction. Loss of personnel and breakup of institutional rules and processes were further eroded by the new politics of accommodation that emerged after independence.

Constructing and improving roads became more attractive than digging waterways or allowing good drainage or rebuilding the city’s sewerage system. In fact, politics would lead to the deterioration of the upkeep of the water service and sewerage systems.

In this confused setup, the roadways were developed much better than the drainage and sewerage system. As a result, over time, the city’s waterways got narrower, clogged, or simply neglected.

Lack of housing facilities led to the growth of squatting wherever unattended private and common public lands were available and unprotected.

(To be continued: The causes of pollution and the disarray of early economic development).

My email is: [email protected]. For archives of previous Crossroads essays, go to: https://www.philstar.com/authors/1336383/gerardo-p-sicat. Visit this site for more information, feedback and commentary: http://econ.upd.edu.ph/gpsicat/

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