Manila Bay – A national icon

(The Philippine Star) - October 21, 2020 - 12:00am

Manila Bay is an iconic water body, the coastal gateway to our nation’s capital. It is a major economic center for shipping, commercial industries and tourism. With its historical importance and golden sunsets, the preservation of the bay should be kept as a national icon.

The main problem besetting Manila Bay at present is its poor water quality which makes swimming unsafe. The fecal coliform (bacteria in animal and human waste) count (an indicator of water quality) in the water of the bay is “extremely high.” With the safe level of 100 MPN (most probable number) per 100 millimeters (ml) of water, the fecal coliform count in the bay in 2018 was 110 million MPN/100 ml!

In January 2019, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the national agency tasked with the protection of the environment, launched its Manila Bay Clean-Up Program (2017-2022) in response to the Supreme Court Mandamus on Manila Bay in December 2016 and upon the order of President Duterte. The program has the objective of “bringing back Manila Bay to life and to make it safe for swimming.” It includes the “cleaning up of designated esteros and waterways, the reduction of fecal coliform levels and toxic discharges from houses and establishments by causing connection to existing STPs (sewage treatment plants).”

According to the DENR, there are around 233,000 informal settler-families residing along the waterways of Manila Bay which directly discharge their wastes into the bay. Of the 19 beach resorts along the bay, nine have “highly polluted waters.” There are 17 principal river systems from eight provinces that drain into the bay.

Through the efforts of the DENR in cooperation with the 13 Mandamus government agencies, local government units and the private sector, the fecal coliform count in Manila Bay was reduced to 54 million MPN/100 ml in 2020 from 110 million MPN/100 ml in 2018.

There is definitely more work and support needed to bring the fecal coliform count in Manila Bay to the level where swimming in it will be safe. It can be done with political will and the help of all stakeholders concerned, as what was done for Boracay Island. We wish the DENR and its partners all the best. – Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero III, former executive director, Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development

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