MPD exec axed over Manila Bay beach crowd

Marc Jayson Cayabyab, Neil Jayson Servallos - The Philippine Star
MPD exec axed over Manila Bay beach crowd
People flock to see Manila Bay’s ‘white sand’ beach yesterday. Inset shows visitors walking along the beach, made of crushed dolomite. Only 70 persons at a time are allowed to walk along the beach and only for three minutes, officials said. The beach, which was open to the public for the past two days, will be closed to visitors starting today to allow the government to continue the ‘beach nourishment’ project.
Edd Gumban

MANILA, Philippines — The police station commander in charge of the Manila Bay area was sacked yesterday after crowds that gathered to see the newly opened beachfront featuring artificial white sand failed to observe social distancing amid the general community quarantine (GCQ).

Lt. Col. Ariel Caramoan, commander of the Ermita police station which has jurisdiction over Manila’s Baywalk, was relieved from his post by Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Camilo Cascolan.

The PNP chief held Caramoan responsible for the botched implementation of minimum health protocols as shown in social media photos and videos of crowds swarming Roxas Boulevard early yesterday morning.

“The reason is he (Caramoan) could’ve prevented that from happening. (Last Saturday), we have seen people flocking already and it has been highlighted to expect that come (Sunday), many people will visit too,” Joint Task Force COVID Shield Commander Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar told The STAR.

Photos from visitors, police and local government showed more or less a hundred people bunched together shoulder to shoulder, taking photos of the beach.

“We can see that there are lapses from the station commander. We want this to stand as a reason for all other station commanders to be aware,” he added.

Caramoan will be replaced by Lt. Col. Alex Daniel, who was the Manila Police District (MPD)’s chief comptroller.

Despite restrictions on mass gatherings, close to a thousand people crowded the section of Manila Bay featuring the government’s controversial beachfront white sand enhancement and restoration project.

“People were just too excited. Everybody wants to see the white sand,” said Brig. Gen. Rolando Miranda, MPD director, as the festive crowd spilled over to Roxas Boulevard, causing a brief traffic jam.

Signs carried by marshalls, reading “Observe social distancing,” were ignored by excited promenaders.

Dozens more were perched on top of the nearby overpass for a view of the artificial white sand or dolomite installation spanning 120 meters long and 60 meters wide, starting from the US embassy side-cove towards the Yacht Club endpoint on Roxas Boulevard.

Mayor Isko Moreno had ordered the police to strictly enforce physical distancing and reminded the public to observe health protocols. “There is still COVID-19 in Manila. Practice social distancing while enjoying the view of the white sand,” Moreno said.

Some MPD personnel were deployed in the area to ensure compliance with social distancing, but they were overwhelmed due to the influx of people since early morning.

Miranda said order was restored past 8 a.m. after the police strictly enforced GCQ protocols, adding that he deployed Special Weapons and Tactics personnel to disperse the crowd of onlookers on the footbridge.

On Twitter, netizens scored the double standard in implementing the ban on mass gatherings, noting that there were no efforts to record people’s information for contact tracing.

The lines would have taken longer if people were required to fill up contact tracing forms, Miranda said.

But Eleazar said there were clear violations of health protocols and that the PNP is now looking at possibly tracing all those people.

“We will still look at (the feasibility of tracing these people) because they were so many (as seen in photos),” he said.

The beach was temporarily opened to the public on Saturday and Sunday following its makeover involving “white sand” from crushed rocks of dolomite which some environmental experts claim to pose potential harm on humans.

The Department of Health has since debunked the claim in a statement it released last week.

Manila Bay closed

The Manila Bay area will again be closed today for further rehabilitation efforts, but the next time it reopens, police vowed better preparations and stricter enforcement of quarantine protocols.

Moreno’s chief of staff Cesar Chavez added that onlookers would no longer be allowed on the footbridge starting today.

“While we are happy that the people are enjoying, we should maintain physical distancing because there is still COVID-19 in Manila,” Chavez said.

In a speech during the opening of the white sand project last Saturday, Moreno thanked the critics of the dolomite sand project for opening up a discussion about cleaning Manila Bay and defended the national government for its beautification campaign during a pandemic.

“While it is true, and we agree, some of it are superficial (and only for) aesthetic value, the major issue here is to clean up Manila Bay… Let us all unite first. Government is not the enemy. COVID-19 is still out there,” Moreno said.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año wants to keep the white sands of Manila Bay closed to the public pending the issuance protocols for visitors.

“At this time, we advise the public to not go (there). You’ll have your time to see Manila Bay,” he said.

Meanwhile, in a dzBB interview, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) spokesperson Celine Pialago urged the public not to leave their trash while visiting the Manila Bay white sand project.

The MMDA also deployed its personnel to issue ticketing violations on those caught littering along Manila Bay, she added.’

Alarm over reclamations

At the Senate, alarm was raised over the possible threats to national security posed by some China-backed reclamation projects in Manila Bay.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said security concerns over the projects — the proposed Sangley Point International Airport and several reclamation undertakings at the Manila Bay — both near the Navy’s base and headquarters — were legitimate, especially that the contractors include the state-owned China Communications Construction Co. (CCCC).

The CCCC is one of the firms involved in the construction of the militarized artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea, and among those blacklisted by the US government and the World Bank for their involvement in the reclamation in the disputed waters, and corruption issues.

He cited reports that the reclamation project would block government vessels’ access to the Navy’s headquarters located on Roxas Boulevard while the proposed airport seeks to drive out the naval base at Sangley Point. – Romina Cabrera and Paolo Romero

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