Palace: P389-M Manila Bay ‘white sand’ project approved prior to pandemic
Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - September 7, 2020 - 5:42pm

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang on Monday defended the P389-million budget for "beach nourishment" on Manila Baywalk after Vice President Leni Robredo called it "insensitive" and said the money could have been used to feed 80,000 hungry families amid the pandemic instead. 

"This plan to put white sand in Manila Bay, it was part of the budget for 2020. This means it was approved in 2019. We could not foresee that there would be a COVID-19 [pandemic]," Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in Filipino during a virtual briefing. 

Robredo on Saturday was one of many to criticize the project, recalling that President Rodrigo Duterte repeatedly said the government had run out of funds to give cash assistance to Filipinos amid the coronavirus-induced crisis. 

"With almost P400 million (budget) at P5,000 for each family, you can help around 80,000 families in a month,” the vice president said.

She previously urged the administration to provide P5,000 in subsidy to the poorest households severely affected by the health crisis.

Robredo further argued that the government is allowed to realign the 2020 budget due to the pandemic. 

“While it is true that this was part of the 2020 budget, it was done prior to COVID-19. Now that we are facing a pandemic, why not reassess the budget and prioritize assistance to hospitals, salaries of the frontliners, food for the poor and mass testing,” Robredo said.

The "Bayanihan To Heal As One Act" gave the executive branch powers to reallocate funds to address the pandemic.

Roque: As a resident of Manila, I'm happy about the project

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources last Thursday confirmed that piles of crushed dolomite were being dumped along the shore of Manila Bay to transform the area—known for its stunning sunset views and garbage-strewn, murky waters—into something similar to popular tourist destination Boracay.

But the move to fill the 500-meter stretch with white sand—actually crushed dolomite boulders, according to DENR —did not sit well with environmental groups, who said the dumping could cause more harm to Manila Bay.

READ: 'White-sanding' along Manila Bay will not make it cleaner, DENR reminded | No environmental impact study needed on Manila 'beach nourishment' — DENR

"Although it is primarily a beautification project, as a resident of Manila, I'm happy and excited that there will be a beautiful attraction in my city," Roque said in a mix of Filipino and English. 

"I'm happy that we will have a beautification of Manila Bay because we from Manila also need access to beautiful beaches in these times where we cannot leave Metro Manila," he added in Filipino. 

Although Metro Manila is now under General Community Quarantine, people are advised to stay at home unless it is necessary to go out.

The Palace spokesman said the project is not just about aesthetics. 

"What they're doing is called beach enhancement. So it's not just beautification. This beach enhancement is to prevent soil erosion and to help with flood control," Roque said. 

However, scientist group Advocates of Science and Technology for the People also warned of the geophysical hazards of the “beach nourishment” project.

“Only a thin layer of these powdered dolomite rocks is overlayed on the beach, on top of existing black sand. This makes an enriched beach susceptible to coastal erosion, especially considering the number of typhoons in the country,” Jerwin Baure, AGHAM spokesperson and fisheries expert of fishers group PAMALAKAYA said.

READ: Manila Bay 'white sand' critics may seek writ of kalikasan — maritime expert

DepEd: If we had the P389-M, we would use it to fund distance learning needs

Meanwhile, the Department of Education on Monday said that if it received P389-million from the government, it could have been used to fund distance learning needs amid the pandemic.

DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones said this during a virtual Laging Handa briefing after the issue was raised by the media.

"We are not interfering with the budget of others but if we had [the P389 million] budget, I'm sure we would have used it for gadgets, computers, and radios [for distance learning]," Briones said in Filipino.

The Department of Budget and Management recently denied DepEd's P65-billion supplemental budget request for its learning continuity plan. 

Education Undersecretary Anne Sevilla, during a previous virtual briefing, called the request a conservative amount, primarily meant to cover the provision of laptops to all public school teachers, as well as to fund the upholding of minimum health standards in basic education schools and offices. — with reports from Gaea Katreena Cabico and Helen Flores of The STAR 

COVID-19 HARRY ROQUE MANILA BAY NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
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