In defense of the Manila Bay Beach project

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

Secretary Roy Cimatu and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) are under fire for initiating a P389-million project to convert the stony breakwater between the American embassy and the Manila Yacht Club along Roxas Boulevard into a white sand beach. The project was conceived to enhance Manila’s position as a tourist destination by beautifying the Manila Bay promenade. It also provides our people with a new public space for rest and recreation.

It will be recalled that in December 2008, the Supreme Court issued a writ of continuing mandamus directing government agencies to clean up, rehabilitate, restore and maintain the waters of Manila Bay to a level fit for swimming. It further mandated government to reduce the coliform levels of the rivers and tributaries that flow into the bay.

In February 2019, President Duterte created the Manila Bay Task Force to fulfill these mandates. The DENR was made the lead agency, supported by the Departments of the Interior and Local Government, Tourism, Health and the MMDA, among others.

The Manila Bay Task Force has since embarked on an aggressive clean-up drive. In just 18 months, lead and coliform levels in the bay have “decreased drastically,” declared DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda. Whereas previously, as much as 50 truckloads of trash would be collected from the bay after monsoon rains, today, only three bags are collected. This exemplifies how much the bay has improved.

The Manila beach project is part of the grand rehabilitation plan of the waters spanning Cavite, Manila and Bataan. The Manila shoreline will be filled with crushed dolomite rocks from Cebu. The project is meant to be a source of pride for the Filipino people.

I am personally in favor of the project, given its tremendous benefits to tourism, in uplifting our city and country brand, in enriching the quality of life of Manila residents and because we need more public spaces. In terms of engineering benefits, the man-made shoreline will help mitigate flooding and prevent soil erosion at the breakwater. And since dolomite contains calcium and magnesium carbonate, it will nourish the waters of the bay and stimulate the growth of coral larvae. All in all, it is a win for the environment, the city and our people.

But in typical crab mentality, critics have attacked the project and called for its suspension. Several arguments have been raised against building the beach, the majority of which I answer in this piece.

The most common criticism is the project’s less-than-favorable timing. As we grapple with the pandemic, critics argue that this is no time to spend on environmental or beautification projects. Funds are better spent on programs relating to hunger alleviation and healthcare.

Look, just because we are battling a pandemic does not mean that other initiatives for national development should be put on hold. If this were the case, we might as well suspend the construction of all farm to market roads or even pull the plug on Marawi’s rehabilitation. My point is, building a nation involves many facets and each is just as important as the other.  Healthcare is just as important as national security – similarly, social welfare is just as important as environmental protection. Channeling funds to one facet of development does not mean the deprivation of the other.

Besides, our COVID response has already secured a P1.193-trillion war-chest through Bayanihan 1 and 2 and the stimulus measures of the BSP. Appropriating P398 million for Manila Bay is not a big ask.

Funding for the Manila beach was approved before the pandemic began and it was taken from the President’s contingency fund. President Duterte is a keen supporter of the project, as is Manila Mayor Isko Moreno.

Critics also say that dolomite can cause eye irritation, respiratory problems and disturbances to the gastrointestinal system.

Let’s get real here – even natural sand will irritate your eyes. Dust from the streets can cause reparatory problems. And if one ingests sand or soil, it will surely cause gastrointestinal complications. Dolomite is no different – it will only be harmful if inhaled or ingested. The good thing is that particles of dolomite sand are three times larger than powder granules. The likelihood of inhaling it is minimal unless intentionally sniffed.

Dolomite sand is neither toxic nor hazardous. It is used in beaches in France and Singapore where health standards are more stringent. Neither countries have reported an extraordinary spike in eye, respiratory or gastrointestinal issues due to dolomite sand. It is also used in many beaches in Cebu and Bohol with no problems.

Critics also argue that artificial sand is susceptible to being washed away by tidal flows. To maintain the Manila beach in good condition, government must regularly replenishment the sand, the cost of which may run into the millions.

We can use France as a point of reference. As much as 21.5 percent of the 132-kilometer French Riviera shoreline is man-made using dolomite sand. It takes four years for the top and bottom layers of sand to be washed away into the open sea. By then, the cost of the sand would have been paid for by its benefits.

The sand in the Manila beach will be more resilient since geo-tubes will hold it in place, claims the DENR. We can reasonably expect it to stay in place for six years.

Besides, the cost to fill the entire Manila shoreline with dolomite sand is only P28 million. Amortized over six years, it is not too expensive to replenish. Yuletide decorations at the CCP Complex cost more.

Construction of the Manila White Sand Beach is in full swing and should be delivered to the people before the end of the month. Only the Supreme Court can stop the project, possibly by invoking the Writ of Kalikasan.

Hundreds of millions of pesos have already been invested in the project. At this point, it is more cost efficient to finish the half- finished beach rather than abandon it.

We often criticize government for not caring for the environment, for not providing our people with public spaces and for not caring about the aesthetic of the city. Finally, it is doing something that ticks all the boxes. Rather than attacking the DENR for a project we will all be enriched by, let us instead give them our support.



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