'White-sanding' along Manila Bay will not make it cleaner, DENR reminded

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
'White-sanding' along Manila Bay will not make it cleaner, DENR reminded
Workers on Thursday prepare the white sand at the Manila Bay, which has been under rehabilitation since January 2019.
The STAR / KJ Rosales

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 5:59 p.m.) — Dumping white sand in Manila Bay would contribute nothing to its rehabilitation and might even affect the marine wildlife and communities around the area, organizations stressed Thursday.   

Piles of white sand are being dumped along the shore of Manila Bay, Department of Environment and Natural Resources Undersecretary Benny Antiporda said, in a bid to transform the bay—known for its stunning sunset views and garbage-strewn, murky waters—into something similar to popular tourist destination Boracay.

"Here in Manila, we know that there are many who are poor. We will bring the white sand closer to them so it is like they are in Boracay even if they are just on Roxas Boulevard. That is what we aim to achieve here," Antiporda said in Filipino in an interview on radio DZBB.

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

'Pure aesthetics'

Fishers group PAMALAKAYA called the project “completely absurd and highfaluting.”

“[This is] artificial rehabilitation focusing on aesthetic appearance rather than addressing the environmental degradation problems [of Manila Bay],” Fernando Hicap, PAMALAKAYA national chairperson, said in a statement.

“Filling of white sand would less likely contribute to the rehabilitation and restoration of degrading Manila Bay,” he added.

The Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment said such "land reclamation activity might endanger marine wildlife and affect the coastline communities situated around and nearby the area."

"Improper sand dumping at the baywalk can result into its topping over into its topping over Manila’s built infrastructure because the area is prone to coastal flooding. It can also result in siltation and degradation of the adjoining marine conservation areas," Leon Dulce, Kalikasan PNE national coordinator, said.

Manila Bay is a principal fishing ground for sardines, mackerel, mullet, threadfin, bream, squid, blue crab, round scad and fusilier.

In an email, marine conservation advocacy group Oceana noted that the material being dumped along Manila Bay does not seem to have come from the area and that putting it there "may not just be destroying the natural ecosystem in Manila Bay but also of the source of this white sand." 

"To cover the coast of Manila Bay with white sand, the government needs hundreds of tons of sand and this would have dire impacts to the coastal integrity of the source of this substrate," Oceana also said. According to reports, the white sand is from Cebu.

Oceana vice president Gloria Estenzo Ramos said in the email that under national laws, agencies need to go through the Environmental Impact Study process and get an Environmental Compliance Certificate for projects that may affect the environment.

She added that the project will be a waste of taxpayers' money since "the sand will be simply washed away by the waves and will mix with the black sand which is the natural element of this part of Manila Bay" when a storm hits.

Focus on mangrove forests, sea grasses instead

Antiporda said that swimming is not yet allowed in Manila Bay because of high coliform levels in the water.

The cleaning up of the polluted Manila Bay began in January last year following the rehabilitation of Boracay.

Addressing concerns that waves or storm surges may wash away the white sand, Antiporda said there are engineering interventions to protect the “white beach.”

But for PAMALAKAYA, the government should resolve the underlying cause of the bay’s degradation instead of beautifying it.

“Why invest in white sand when you can plant mangrove forests and sea grasses that would restore and balance its marine ecosystem?” Hicap said.

“No amount of white sand an external beauty can restore Manila Bay if such destructive projects are going through,” he added.

The DENR in June granted an environmental compliance certificate to the land reclamation project in Bacoor City, which may result in the displacement of some 700 families and may threaten the remaining mangrove forest in the coastal city.

In northern Manila Bay, some residents of BarangayTaliptip in Bulakan town have left their homes—the proposed site of the New Manila International Airport—in exchange for compensation.

The House of Representative approved on second reading Wednesday the bill granting San Miguel Corp. the franchise for the construction and operation of the airport city complex.

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