Boracay in Manila

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Boracay... who doesn't want to have its white beach right at one's doorstep?

On the 19th, or just two Saturdays from now, the government tentatively intends to open for promenading and swimming a man-made white beach running the length of Manila's Baywalk – a stretch of Manila Bay's shoreline about half a kilometer long.

The "white" isn't as white as the dazzling powdery sand of Boracay, but closer to summer melon, because it's crushed dolomite boulders from Cebu. This is according to Benny Antiporda, undersecretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The program is part of the ongoing ambitious program to revive Manila Bay sufficiently enough to make most of its areas safe enough for swimming.

It includes a P384-million "beach nourishment" program for Baywalk – that promenade beside the US embassy compound that was once controversial for its "Sputnik lights" and eateries by the bay wall.

Can our cash-strapped country afford this beautification in the time of COVID? Antiporda told "The Chiefs" last Thursday night on OneNews / TV 5 that the project was conceived long before the pandemic.

To reassure doubters, the DENR says the coliform count that is safe for swimming is 100 million most probable number or mpn per 100 milliliter. At the Raja Soliman/Remedios drainage outfall (beside Aristocrat), the coliform count, according to the DENR, is now down to just 11 million mpn per 100 ml. ADVERTISING Ads by Teads

At the nearby Padre Faura outfall beside the US embassy, the count is 920,000 mpn / 100 ml. On the other end of the Baywalk, at the Manila Yacht Club outfall, the count is now 54 million mpn/100 ml.

There are people who can't care less about coliform counts and oil slicks in the water. Until that area was walled off, hordes of people kept swimming in the area despite a ban and patrols by Coast Guard and DENR personnel.

* * *

I'm no aquatic expert, so I don't know if a bay can be cleaned up per section to allow for safe swimming only in certain parts. Isn't it the same body of water? Maybe there's aquatic engineering that allows certain areas to be cordoned off from the toxic waste seeping out of all the ships doing business in the Port of Manila, the black residue from the nearby charcoal making center of Barangay Ulingan, the agricultural waste from the farms in Bulacan, and the still continuing flow of industrial effluvia and household waste from Metro Manila, Cavite, and nearly 20 water tributaries that wash out into the bay.

There are also concerns about the reclaimed area being washed away, with the meter-high layer of off-white dolomite being the first to go, especially in case of a storm surge – the type that spawned a wave 20 feet high that smashed into the bay at the height of Typhoon Pedring in September 2011. The surge destroyed Sofitel's popular Spiral buffet restaurant and caused damage in the US embassy compound. Antiporda told us that a breakwater is being constructed to protect the Baywalk from storm surges. I guess a breakwater will also make it easier to keep the water in the area clean enough for swimming.

He said certain portions of the bay, such as in Bataan and Cavite, have also passed the coliform cleanliness test. Swimming in fact has always been allowed in Corregidor, where visitors can have lunch during a day trip or spend the night in a hotel.

So yes, it's possible that the water quality off Manila's Baywalk, which the DENR apparently wants to turn into a showcase of the Manila Bay cleanup, can be sufficiently improved to make it safe for swimming.

And since it's going to be a showcase, I guess this is where the idea of creating a Boracay-type white beach emanated. The Chinese, after all, have shown that entire artificial islands can be durable, complete with faux white beaches. Did those artificial island beaches use crushed dolomite from the Philippines as well?

* * *

Antiporda says waste from the Pasig River and the tributaries that wash out into the bay from Metro Manila, including sewage from the Manila Zoo, have been addressed to allow the creation of the Baywalk white beach.

The question is the sustainability of the cleanup. Roxas Boulevard is my regular route to the office; I drive past Baywalk twice a day, six days a week. After every storm or heavy monsoon rain, wind and waves wash ashore tons of garbage. When the wind and waves are powerful enough, the garbage reaches even Roxas Boulevard.

On clear days, it takes longer for the solid waste to accumulate along the shores. But this showcase will need round-the-clock monitoring to keep out the garbage.

It will also need sentries to keep the area from being turned into a nighttime shelter for the homeless. As it is, authorities can't keep street dwellers off Roxas Boulevard even during daytime.

* * *

Despite all the flak the project is now getting, you can bet a white beach in Manila will draw a large crowd. This will raise other problems: preventing littering, and maintaining a carrying capacity especially amid a still raging killer pandemic.

As for the boulevard, my nightly drive home has become more pleasant with the installation of solar-powered LED lights to mark the lanes on the Manila portion of Roxas Boulevard. The cost is another story. But in terms of appearance, the lights are perfect for the start of our long Christmas season.

Unfortunately, it's a case of nice lights, lousy road. The pavement is uneven, and could get worse with the rains. Will I ever see durable, top-quality pavement on Roxas Boulevard? This seems to be as challenging as the complete bay cleanup.

The DENR reportedly intends to make Manila Bay clean enough not only for swimming but also for the commercial propagation of shellfish.

South of the bay, the lush mangroves in the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area have become spawning grounds for marine life and a bird sanctuary.

Seeing this protected wetland thriving in the bay could make you believe cleaning up the bay area in the densely populated city of Manila is possible.

So get ready for Boracay in Manila.

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