FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - March 30, 2019 - 12:00am

The rehabilitation of Manila Bay is a monumental task – so monumental previous national leaders would not even think of undertaking it.

This is a task that goes far beyond merely scraping the trash along the shoreline. It will require cleaning up the river systems that feed into the bay, enforcing water treatment regulations on all enterprises along these waterways, and possibly relocating tens of thousands of informal settlers along the shoreline.

In a word, the rehabilitation of Manila Bay will be the principal barometer of our progress from a weak state to a strong state.

A weak state is one that is unable to enforce anything: property rights, environmental protection, and conservation of the commons. For too long, we labored under a weak state that enacted mountains of laws but was consistently unable to enforce any of them.

A strong state is what we need to achieve to ensure the progress of our people. It is a state where the rules are clear and predictably enforced, where private interests are constantly subordinate to the larger good.

The rehabilitation of Manila Bay can only be completed if we make progress toward the achievement of a strong state. That is the revolutionary underpinning of this effort.


In the midst of the discussion about the rehabilitation of Manila Bay, some environmental groups have stepped in with their own agenda. They are demanding a halt to plans for reclaiming land from the bay.

Rehabilitation and reclamation are two different things. To be sure, they are not mutually exclusive.

It is possible to do rehabilitation while allowing some reclamation. It is all a matter of correct engineering guided by virtuous purpose. Properly done, reclamation could help rehabilitation of the bay.

Dr. Ed Alabastro, one of the few environmental impact professionals in the country, argues for the viability of reclaiming parts of the bay. Alabastro is currently the executive director of Kaibigan ng Kaunlaran at Kalikasan and vice-chair of the environmental committee of the Federation of Philippine Industries. He was formerly chair of the Philippine Section of the Air &Waste Management Association.

According to Alabastro, Manila Bay has become heavily polluted because of the dirty water flowing in from the rivers. These rivers are polluted, in turn, because of weak enforcement of existing regulations on water treatment. Even Laguna de Bay is heavily polluted and badly in need of dredging.

The rehabilitation of Manila Bay should begin with cleaning up the rivers and creeks that drain into it. This is a massive effort and will take years to complete.

Adding to the pollution of the bay are the informal settler communities along its coastline and commercial establishments that operate without adequate waste water pollution abatement facilities. It could take a generation to resettle the communities dumping raw waste into the waters – and that will have to be a function of our economic development.

Any reclamation activity, he says, should start with the removal of deposited silt and garbage from the seabed. Without reclamation, there will be no place to dump the tons of silt that needs to be removed to clean the water.

Government should ensure that reclamation projects should have a centralized and controlled wastewater management system consistent with the high standards set by the DENR. Modern engineering standards should be set for the drainage system. Proper funding should be ensured to enable our monitoring agencies. Protecting the environment costs.

Local government units are empowered to undertake reclamation projects. They are mandated to be integral to the implementation of environmental protection policies.

We do have the policy framework to clean up our badly polluted environment. What we need are enough resources for the agencies to effectively enforce standards.


Some amount of reclamation may be necessary.

As the urban areas grow, we lack space to build. Reclamation is feasible if property values support the high costs of acquiring land from the sea.

Without reclamation, it is no longer possible to build large projects in the city. Those projects will have to be dispersed and may face insurmountable right of way issues, especially in building modern sewerage systems.

Reclamation will also enable new transport infrastructure to be built. This is true of the circumferential highway that was supposed to be part of the Laguna de Bay cleanup aborted by the previous administration.

There are also designs for new road systems around Manila Bay linked to reclaimed areas. The coastal road to Cavite is an example of this. A similar road system will be needed for the Bulacan coast, especially if a massive airport will be built there. Remember that Roxas Boulevard itself sits on reclaimed land.

One cannot take a dogmatic stand against reclamation. Reclaiming land could be a key to rehabilitating Manila Bay.

Best practices

Any reclamation activity in Manila Bay could now benefit from the best practices elsewhere.

The massive Kansai Airport complex near Osaka sits on a large island completely reclaimed from the sea. The liveliest part of Singapore today is the Marina area, a large estate sitting on reclaimed land.

We could learn from the best practices of these reclaimed areas to guide our own reclamation activities. Our own reclamation experience has been instructive. The Macapagal and Diokno boulevards in the Pasay-Paranaque area were built on land reclaimed from the sea.

We have to deal with the fact that in the National Capital Region we simply do not have enough land left to build modern industrial and commercial complexes. Reclamation is a need.

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