TURNING POINT: Making Up Manila Bay : Gross and Insensitive

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 7 September) — The Supreme Court’s mandamus of December 18, 2016 is a continuing order to the government to clean up, rehabilitate and preserve Manila Bay, that is, to restore its bounty and natural beauty; in effect, to stop it from being a sink of solid, chemical and thermal waste from factories, commercial establishments and residences. The verifiable and measurable outcome of the order is for the bay waters to be again fit for swimming, skin diving and other forms of contact recreation. And, of course, for marine lives to abound again.

The mandamus of the Supreme Court was issued in response to the petition of some concerned citizens over the neglect of government authorities in the conservation and protection of Manila Bay.

The task force created by Malacañang to comply with the order, headed by the DENR, started rightly in 2019 by undertaking massive cleanup drives in the bay’s shores, tributaries and other waterways that drain into the bay. Inspections were also made on the compliance of commercial establishments along the bay to waste management regulations.

Needless to say, the primary issue in Manila Bay is effective waste and pollution management. It is how to control solid waste and pollution sources. The task is quite complex and daunting and may demand a longer time to accomplish primarily because the point sources are enumerable; the task environment is so wide and enforcement enjoins the compliance of thousands of business establishments and several millions of the populace in the NCR region, and the cooperation of several government and private entities.

But it seems, the DENR, under Gen. Cimatu wants another Boracay – a quick one-shot project, forgetting, the complexity of Manila Bay problem that no less than the Supreme Court recognized, the reason why it issued not a time-bound but a continuing order to revive it. The DENR changes gear and plunges swiftly into a beautification project that does not improve the health of the bay but simply masks its ugly features with white sands from crushed dolomite materials. But it is impossible to cover an ugliness caused by negligence, inefficiency and corruption by one stroke of a magic wand.

The Imeldific legacy is very much alive. It seems Imelda’s magic wand has been handed to the DENR. The former first lady and MM governor in the 70s built and whitewashed walls, to hide from the eyes of visiting foreign dignitaries, the ugly squatter shanties along the Manila International Airport. White sands were also hauled to beautify a beach resort in her Leyte hometown where the candidates of the 1974 Miss Universe beauty pageant were hosted for a day.

Where are the environmentalists of DENR? Of what good is a whitened bay if its waters still abound with lethal level of coliforms, and uncontrolled solid wastes from the upland would continue to float, gather and accumulate along its shoreline?

And it’s doubtful that the vaunted engineering structure claimed to protect the white sands from erosion can withstand the mighty tidal surges of just one visiting typhoon and would last from a continuous and unforgiving battering of the northeast and southwest monsoon. It’s a waste.

The P300-400 million worth of whitening make up for Manila Bay is gross and insensitive. It’s a monstrous anomaly at this time when the country is buffeted by a health and economic crisis spawned by the coronavirus pandemic and the wanting government response to it.

The money would have gone a long way in feeding millions of hungry families in Metro Mania who lost their incomes to the long lockdown.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)