Holistic plan to save Manila Bay
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - February 22, 2019 - 12:00am

For a continuing series about the ongoing rehabilitation of the Manila Bay, we have invited to our weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay several key government and private sector officials who can best update us on the current activities to revive our country’s famed perfect sunset site.

Manila City Administrator Atty. Erickson “Jojo” Alcovendaz, Jennifer Rufo of Maynilad Water Services Inc., and Jeric Sevilla of Manila Water Co. Inc. gave us very detailed discussions on their respective roles in the national efforts to rehabilitate the waters of the Manila Bay.

Alcovendaz disclosed that Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada ordered the closure last Monday of the Makchang restaurant and the Circle Hotel in Malate for violations of local ordinances that include the lack of wastewater treatment or sewage equipment, sanitation permit, and health certificates of their workers.

The closure came after the City Hall inspection team gave them seven days to correct their non-compliance but found the two establishments have not done anything to conform with the environmental requirements of their business permits.

According to Alcovendaz, five more business establishments located in Malate area have been given notices of similar violations and given the same number of days within which to undertake corrective measures. As of yesterday, he said, the five commercial establishments asked for an extension.

Alcovendaz, however, clarified the notices of violations on erring establishments were being implemented based on the recommendation of the city government’s department of health and sanitation. This was to correct the misimpression that it was the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) that issued the order to Mayor Estrada. The Manila City administrator showed copies of the letters of LLDA general manager Jaime Medina to Mayor Estrada informing the latter about cease and desist orders (CDO) issued to specific commercial establishments under the jurisdiction of the City of Manila.

“In this regard, we are furnishing herewith copies of cease and desist orders (CDO) issued to various entities and establishments within the administrative jurisdiction of the City of Manila for the information and reference of your good office,” the LLDA chief stated in his letter to Mayor Estrada. “We wish to thank you for your continuing support in our joint efforts to rehabilitate and improve the environmental quality of Manila Bay, Laguna de Bay and the tributaries draining into these bodies of water,” the LLDA letter further stated.

The LLDA is one of the attached agencies of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) among the national government agencies and local government units along with Maynilad and Manila Water that were covered by the 2008 mandamus issued by the Supreme Court (SC) to save and rehabilitate Manila Bay. We earlier featured DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu as head of the Task Force Manila Bay rehabilitation to our Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Feb. 6.

Speaking for Mayor Estrada, Alcovendaz sounded the call for all hands on deck to save Manila Bay. Two of the 31 esteros within the city directly drains at Manila Bay, he said. Of the 11,000 informal settlers living along these esteros, he cited, 5,000 families were already relocated by the Manila City government to resettlement sites in Cavite and Bulacan.

The Manila Bay waters are considered the most polluted in the country due to domestic sewage, toxic industrial effluents from factories and shipping operations, and leachate from garbage dumps, among others. The Manila Bay area has registered levels to as high as 330 million most probable number (mpn) per 100 milliliters.

The standard coliform level for coastal waters for swimming and other similar recreational activities is only at 100 mpn/100 ml as safe level.

On Feb. 15, 2011, the SC issued a continuing mandamus to all concerned to comply with the order after taking to task these government agencies for lack of implementation of the High Court order. It was only the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte who found the political will to implement this following the successful campaign to save Boracay island resort from similar environmental degradation.

In fact, President Duterte signed on Feb. 19 Administrative Order No. 16 designating the DENR Secretary as chairman of the Manila Bay rehab task force, with the Secretaries of the Department of Interior and Local Government and of the Department of Tourism as vice-chairpersons.

According to Cimatu, only 15 percent of the water-served population in the National Capital Region are connected to a sewerage system with either the Maynilad Water or the Manila Water. But more than 200,000 informal settler families – the politically correct term for squatters – residing in esteros and riverbanks discharge human wastes at the waterways that eventually end up at the Manila Bay.

For the part of Maynilad and Manila Water, the two water concessionaires of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) explained that commercial establishments have the obligation to install their own sewage treatment plants (STP) that will process their wastewater before being discharged eventually to sewer lines.

The two MWSS concessionaires are currently scouting for available land space to speed up the construction of additional STP in these unserved areas.

Our own venue of Kapihan sa Manila Bay at Cafe Adriatico in Remedios Circle in Malate was even among establishments issued by the Manila City Hall with notice of violations and is currently paying penalties of P10,000 a day for lack of septic/sewage treatment. Its owners, led by the family-owned restaurants of the late Larry J. Cruz (LJC), are now seeking a City Hall permit for excavation to connect Café Adriatico to the sewer lines of Maynilad.

Maynilad and Manila Water echoed the call aired by Manila City administrator Alcovendaz for such a “holistic” program to save the Manila Bay. As to how to do such “holistic” program of action will be the topic of my next column on Monday.

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