‘Manila beach’ defended amid uproar

Rhodina Villanueva - The Philippine Star
�Manila beach� defended amid uproar
Boracay in Manila: A man takes a selfie with the ‘white sand’ beach in Manila’s Baywalk in the background, joining other people observing work on the controversial project from a pedestrian overpass on Roxas Boulevard over the weekend.
Miguel De Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — Days after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) started dumping artificial white sand in Manila Bay, the Department of Health (DOH) yesterday warned the public of health risks due to exposure to crushed dolomite amid public outcry over the project.

But the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the DENR defended the use of synthetic white sand as part of the bay’s rehabilitation program, saying it would help nourish the bay.

“These pulverized dolomite boulders are composed of calcium magnesium carbonate, which does not have any adverse effects, whatsoever, to the ecosystem. It has long been used in famous beach resorts in Cebu,” MGB director Wilfredo Moncano said.

Moncano said the transport of dolomite from Cebu was covered by permit issued by the MGB Region 7, adding that taxes and fees were paid.

Dolomite is a form of sedimentary rock that has high mineral content and can be used as a substitute for white beach sand.

Apart from contributing to Manila Bay’s aesthetic makeover, the white sand will play a big role in the bay’s nourishment, according to Director William Cuñado of the Environmental Management Bureau.

Health issues

The DOH warned the public that crushed dolomite can cause adverse respiratory reactions, eye irritation and discomfort in the gastrointestinal system.

“If you inhale the dust, your respiratory system will be affected. But we are not saying that when you go to Manila Bay, you’ll get it at once,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said at a press briefing yesterday.

Citing medical studies, Vergeire noted that when dolomite dust gets “aerosolized” in the air, it can cause respiratory reactions.

“But with the clearance of the DENR, I don’t think this project will be implemented if it will harm the people and the environment,” she said.

Moncano downplayed reports that dolomite could be hazardous to people’s health.

“If we are talking about mining processes and there is the generation of dolomite’s fine particles and the person is not wearing a protective equipment, there is a chance for it to affect one’s health,” he explained.

Moncano said there is nothing to worry about dolomite placed along Manila Bay’s shorelines, adding that “an engineering intervention will be employed such as the use of geo-tubes to hold the sand in place.”

Cuñado said the DENR has recorded improvements in the water quality of the bay.

DENR data showed that as of January, the coliform levels in the bay have “drastically decreased.”

Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda pointed out that before the rehabilitation commenced, there were around 50 trucks of garbage collected in the bay area.

“Right now, only two to three trucks of garbage are collected during monsoon,” Antiporda said.

Malacañang defended the Manila Bay white sand project, saying it would help control floods and prevent soil erosion.

The P389-million project, which involves covering a 500-meter stretch of the bay’s shorelines with artificial white sand, has received flak from the public because of its timing and health risks.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the project was conceptualized even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno expressed his support for the bay’s rehabilitation project.

Opposition snowballs

Senators Nancy Binay and Francis Pangilinan yesterday urged the govermment to immediately suspend the Manila Bay’s white sand project.

Sen. Nancy Binay lamented that the DENR failed to see the health hazards caused by the dumping of dolomite near the bay.

“This plan did not pass through the proper study,” Binay said in a statement.

“There was no public consultation, no environmental clearance and premature issuance of the environmental impact assessment. It’s clear the plan was haphazardly done,” she added.

Binay said the public deserved to be informed about the whole context of the project, particularly its impact on the environment and public health.

She asked the DENR to release to the public the project’s budget and approved environmental impact statement in the interest of transparency.

Pangilinan said the government should prioritize addressing hunger and unemployment problems caused by the pandemic instead of undertaking the white sand project.

Environment groups opposed the use of synthetic white sand in Manila Bay, saying it goes against the Supreme Court’s order to government agencies to rehabilitate the bay.

Rodne Galicha, executive director of Living Laudato Si Philippines, said the dumping of dolomite in the bay is a form of reclamation.

“Manila Bay does not need cosmetic beautification through beach nourishment that has to be periodically repeated to address coastal erosion due to waves and storm surges,” the EcoWaste Coalition said.

Archdiocese of Manila Apostolic Administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo said the bay’s rehabilitation was ill-timed, adding that “a lot of people are going hungry because of the pandemic.” – Sheila Crisostomo, Alexis Romero, Rey Galupo, Evelyn Macairan, Paolo Romero, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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