Manila Bay Cleanup — a fallacy or an actuality?
AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - January 21, 2019 - 12:00am

Time and again, agencies concerned with the deteriorating state of the environment have rallied to find solutions to what is destroying our natural environment and ecosystems, adversely affecting lives, communities and biodiversity. Unfortunately, all these calls have fallen on deaf ears and so the saga of environmental destruction continues in the country and the citizens suffer the consequences.

But then again, we are Filipinos, known for our resilience, perseverance, hopefulness, and the capacity to rise above all forms of adversities. So, we continue the fight. Never mind if all the initiatives to clean-up the esteros, the rivers, the seas, the bays, endlessly fail and could not be sustained due to lack of political will in our leaders. We still carry on.

Take a look at Manila Bay. Cleanup activities spearheaded by different groups in society was only good for a day or two. Then everything is back to zero. Why is that? Are all these activities just meant to be for show to stop the clamor and the endless bickering of the people? Or is it for some sort of vested interest?

Last week, the Manila Yacht Club and the Rotary Club of Manila expressed support on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) ‘Save Manila Bay’ project. Manila Yatch Club a historical treasure right by Manila Bay where many expensive yachts are docked is very much affected by the bay’s pollution. The question is, after the clean up, will they be able to sustain the project?

According to DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu, he will use all the agency’s resources to clean up the bay once and for all. He will coordinate with all government agencies and task all stakeholders to be part of the solution. In a meeting with officials in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, plans were mapped out for the Manila Bay cleanup set to start on January 27, 2019. Members from the private sector (like Manila Water and Maynilad) and government agencies are expected to review the construction of sewerage treatment plants in order to prevent further pollution of the bay; they must make a survey and establish guidelines for buildings/commercial establishments and factories near the bay for the immediate compliance of sewerage treatment plant; come up with educational programs in collaboration with the private sector, academe, DepEd to help train barangay chairmen in Metro Manila for waste segregation; and do coordination work with Commission on Audit for Environmental Management Assessment, DILG, Ombudsman, etc. In doing so, it is hoped that within three years, all dwellers near waterways will be relocated and be given a priority by the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) for the housing grants.

Some environmentalists believe that this clean up project cannot be accomplished in a year. They say that the rehabilitation of Manila Bay will take 5 to 10 years and a lifetime to do maintenance work just like Singapore in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

As for the cost, well, reports say that the cleanup of Singapore River and Kallang Basin cost $300M, and that was 40 years ago. Some 4,000 squatters were relocated. River banks and the bottom of the river were dredged of foul smelling mud. The scope of the rehabilitation of Manila Bay is ten times more with four provinces and five cities of Metro Manila involved. Manila Bay has an area of 200,000 hectares that is three times the size of Singapore. The coastline is 200 kms. long compared to Singapore’s 3 kms.

Here’s hoping for the best in this endeavor. My only qualm: Why is this only happening now? We’ve had laws to protect the environment since time immemorial. Government in the past and the present has clearly taken all these laws for granted. Sanamagan!

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In his article, “The Imperative of Environmental Protection,” environmentalist and retired PNP Chief Superintendent Patrick Madayag said, “Ecological balance is one of the National Security Interests in the country’s National Security Policy (NSP) of 2017-2022. The rapid economic growth and industrialization are transforming society and improving the lives of many Filipinos but it comes at a great cost to the environment. Protecting and preserving ecological balance is a complex challenge that interacts with many determinants of national security and people’s well-being. The drivers for protecting and preserving the environment are inter-related with issues of poverty, governance, the pressures of rapid economic and population growth and the phenomena of climate change. Ecological balance is a National Security goal with its strategic objective to protect and preserve the country’s ecosystems, biodiversity and genetic resources.”

He cited Article II Section 16 of the Philippine Constitution as a State Policy on environmental protection for a “balanced and healthful ecology.” Several environmental laws have been enacted notably RA 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) of 1992 for biodiversity, RA 8749 or the Clean Air Act of 1999, RA 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 and RA 9275 or the Clean Water Act of 2004, among other significant laws for the protection of public health and the environment.

The list of environmental laws is endless. There is the Solid Waste Management Law (RA 6716 (1989) that would have prevented flooding and save water for the dry season and the Water Code that provides for the easement along water bodies, riverbanks and esteros. It should also be noted that Sec. 389, paragraph 9 puts the responsibility on barangay captains to implement environmental laws.

Madayag added, “The weak or inadequate to the extent that there is no enforcement and compliance to environmental laws and regulations is one of the main reasons on the degradation or the poor quality of the environment.

There are clear violations of even ordinary and simple environmental laws that are poorly enforced. Littering and dumping of garbage, human wastes and effluent into “esteros” or waterways are becoming more rampant and a normal practice which makes the environment unhealthy, dirty and unsightly.”

In conclusion Madayag said, “Amidst the several challenges the country faces on poverty alleviation, the bloody campaign on the war on illegal drugs and the realization of the $160 - 180 billion Build, Build, Build infrastructure program, let us pause and reflect on the song “Masdan mo ang Kapaligiran” on the intergenerational concern and our responsibility on the protection and care of the environment. A sustainable environment is one of our best investments toward the future for the well-being of the next generation of Filipinos.” After all it is our moral responsibility to protect the environment.

Anyway, my alikabok tells me that, a bill will soon be drafted to create the Manila Bay Authority (MBA) to handle rehabilitation and management. Will this be the long-term solution we have all been waiting for? Abangan!

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