Sand shock

LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph Gonzales (The Freeman) - April 18, 2021 - 12:00am

More dolomite sand poured into Manila Bay at the stupendous cost of P389 million? At a time when so many millions of Filipinos are unemployed and ravaged by hunger? At a time when the nation is still battling COVID-19? At a time when our economy is sinking?

What could possibly possess our esteemed government officials to authorize the spending of this much on so little (if any) benefit? Do they not see the hapless Pinoys scrounging to make ends meet? Do they not see the proliferation of people sleeping on the streets? Do they not hear the grumbling of a citizenry already well past a year in lockdowns?

That is just the now. What about the past? Do they not remember the outcry when the first artificial sand project was dumped on the citizens, and the universal distaste for this flagrant waste of taxpayer money?

Somebody did the math already. This much money could have paid for the purchase of 600,000 doses of AZ vaccine. Or it could have fed 97,000 families. Or it could have been applied in so many ways that would have been more useful to our society, like employing contact tracers, constructing hospital wards, or accelerating the testing of suspect coronavirus cases.

But no. Our very own Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is spearheading this project, showing to all and sundry how little it actually cares about the environment, or their fellow Filipinos.

Yes, many environmentalists, as early as 2017 when the first fake sand dumping was announced, already voiced that this was a very bad idea for Manila Bay and its denizens. The addition of dolomite to the coast, it was said, would lead to oxygen deficiency in the marine ecosystem, and would not even make recreational activities safer (I remember hosting beach volleyball tournaments using dolomite as my surface, and the athletes ended up having gaping scratches on their limbs every time they dove for the ball. That’s how recreationally-friendly dolomite is).

Little by little, the dumped dolomite started dissipating, or worse, being ingested by the marine wildlife. And started killing them, more probably. Not exactly an appetizing result, if measured by any metric for success.

And yet, the government representatives, who are ordinarily so receptive to complaints about environmental degradation, were and apparently still are deaf to the clamor. Deliberate disregard for science, in the pursuit of this gigantic expenditure? So much money involved!

Asked to explain, the proffered reason by presidential spokesman Harry Roque was that this fake white sand, dully gleaming on the shores of Manila, would be able to perk up the mental health of citizens. Oh, Harry. I think my mental condition became more destabilized as a result of hearing that. I don’t think I was soothed at all.

And just what, exactly, is the DENR doing trying to watch out for our mental health? Is watching out for our mental well-being already included within its mandate? Are we part of the wildlife that the DENR’s jurisdiction encompasses? My fangs are showing.

I just hope that whoever’s signature from the DENR is found on the paperwork for the purchase of this dolomite disaster is well-armed when it comes to his or her legal defense later. Many activists, both environmental and political, are itching to file cases for this apparent misuse of taxpayer money. Would this expenditure qualify as plunder, perhaps? I would love to be on the prosecution side, and to think of many legal theories to make sure this sprinkling of fake sand leads to many magic convictions.

As I always say, the courts will eventually decide this issue. But meanwhile, those relevant officials should start prepping their defense.

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