Plant mangroves, not cancerous fake sand

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Plant mangroves on the entire 190-kilometer coastline of Manila Bay. That will rehab the murky waters not cancerous artificial white sand on a half-kilometer seafront along Roxas Boulevard, Manila.

Alibis for the government’s P400-million fake sanding are silly. It’s “sea nourishment,” an environment undersecretary blabbers. Viewing the “white beach” unquantifiably boosts people’s mental health during pandemic, the presidential spokesman yatters.

If so, then consider this: Planting mangroves all along Bataan, Pampanga, Bulacan, Metro Manila and Cavite will green the shoreline. Fish, shells, crabs, birds and edible flora will also thrive. That’s food, scenery, fresh air, clean sea for millions.

It can be done; it’s being done. A stone’s throw south of the bogus white sands is a genuine mangrove forest. It is the core of the 175-hectare Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Eco-Tourism Area. The bayside LPPCHEA hosts 11 endemic species of mangroves. Fruit-bearing native trees and bamboos intersperse. Eighty bird species feed and roost there, some from as far as Siberia. Protected are the rare Black-Winged Stilt, Chinese Egret and Philippine Duck.

The nature park is low-maintenance. For two decades now Sen. Cynthia Villar leads volunteers in sowing mangrove propagules. Picked from mature trees, they’re first grown in tubs to sturdiness. Even without human intervention, elongated pointed seedlings snap and drop onto the seabed to multiply.

Effects are immense. Fish, mollusks and crustaceans spawn in the mangrove patch. “The more mangroves, the bigger the fish population in our area,” Villar beams. Livelihood of 300,000 surrounding fisherfolk is sustained. The LPPCHEA spurs nature and educational tourism.

Mangroves are natural shields against land avulsion, storm surge and flood. Says a 2012 Cambridge University report: “(They) slow the flow of water as the surge moves inland and lessen the waves, lowering water levels and reducing damage behind the mangroves.”

In 2013, the Ramsar Convention named LPPCHEA among the world’s most vital wetlands. Like Tubbataha Reefs in the Sulu Sea and the Underground River in Palawan, it is an earth heritage site.

Many other mangrove plantations enrich coastal towns. In San Pascual, Batangas, Chevron’s propagation saves rare Olive-Ridley Turtles. Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino III maintains the beach forest in Bolinao. Former Quezon governor David Suarez led yearly replanting. In Silay City, Negros Occidental, a Japanese NGO lined the shore. In Bohol, German and Swiss businessmen handle various towns.

Largest replanting is in Prieto Diaz, Sorsogon, started in the 2000s by then-governor Raul Lee and environmentalist Rustum Mirasol. Now spanning 700 hectares, the mangrove forest holds all 26 Philippine species. Once a smoky, dreary seaside of charcoal makers, it is now a world attraction. Townsfolk host brisk tourism from high school biology students, college majors and scientists from all over.

Manila Bay mangrove replanting is just for starters. Government needs to enforce sewage treatment laws. No factory, restaurant or home waste should directly be expelled to canals, sewers and rivers onto the sea. Non-biodegradable plastic trash should be banned. Squatters need relocating for creekside cleanup.

Gawad Kalinga builds low-cost houses at P125,000 apiece. How many units could have been built from government’s P400-million white sand-fill along 500 meters of baywalk? Answer: 3,200 family dwellings.

The environment department says its white sanding will go on. Kilometers more are to be dumped with the crushed dolomite. That would waste billions of pesos – when President Duterte says there’s no more money for pandemic “ayuda.”

Backwash will only disperse the synthetic sand and contaminate the 1,994-square-kilometer bay, says earth activist Greenpeace. It’s mere whitewash of government’s failure to rehabilitate the water body, adds Pamalakaya fishermen’s group.

Dolomite powder is harmful to humans. Health U-Sec. Rosario Vergeire says it can impair breathing when inhaled, cause diarrhea when ingested and irritate the eyes and skin. Those are but the minor effects.

Maritime law expert Dr. Jay Batongbacal cites two US studies, by Lehigh Hanson Inc. in 2012 and Lhoist North America in 2018, of worse injury. Prolonged, repeated exposure to the silica can cause lung cancer, chronic respiratory disorder and silicosis. For this, project opponents can seek from the courts a Writ of Kalikasan, and even damages.

The dolomite was taken from Cebu and dumped in Manila without local government consent. It’s fine with Manila city hall, but Cebu officials are alarmed. “It feels like we were robbed because we didn’t know about it and the procedure was improper,” says provincial board member John Borgonia, chairman for environment. Uncompensated, the substance came from conservation areas in Alcoy and Dalaguete towns.

Officials broke the law in not assessing first the environmental impact. Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, president of Oceana-Philippines, cites Presidential Decree 1586 and the Fisheries Code of 1998.

To all that, the beach whitening officials say they exempted themselves from legal requirements. As well from the 2008 Supreme Court ruling for 13 state agencies to clean up Manila Bay. They seem bent on ruining government’s reputation.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., dwIZ (882-AM).

My book “Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government” is available on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/Amazon-Exposes

Paperback:  https://tinyurl.com/Anvil-Exposes or at National Bookstores.

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Gotcha archives: https://tinyurl.com/Gotcha-Archives

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