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Manila Bay rehabilitation Year 3: DENR advised to place environment and people above ‘development’

Manila Bay rehabilitation Year 3: DENR advised to place environment and people above ‘development’

Gaea Katreena Cabico – Philstar.com

January 27, 2022, 12:47pm| 12:47pm

MANILA, Philippines — The rehabilitation of Manila Bay should put the environment and people’s welfare before development projects that pose threats to the degraded ecosystem, environmental groups said, three years since the launch of a campaign called “Battle for Manila Bay.”

The rehabilitation of Manila Bay began on January 27, 2019. The program would be implemented in three phases: cleanup and water quality improvement and rehabilitation and resettlement. Education and sustainment are the other two phases.

Recently, the DENR reported a decrease of coliform levels at its sampling stations in Baseco, Baywalk, and the rivers Obando, Talisay, and Pampanga in Central Luzon. The agency attributed water quality improvements to solid waste strategies and geo-engineering interventions. Compliance monitoring of establishments around Manila Bay was also a factor.

For scientists, rehabilitation is not just about cleaning up.

“The DENR should not just focus on making Manila Bay swimmable. It should also aim to restore marine ecosystems, improve fisheries production, and make the environment more beautiful. Aside from addressing solid wastes, it is also important to conserve and restore marine ecosystems, such as mangrove forests and mudflats,” the Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM) said.

“In this aspect, the Duterte administration failed,” it said, noting mangrove forests and mudflats are being threatened by at least 23 reclamation projects covering approximately 25,000 hectares of the coast of Manila Bay from Bataan to Cavite.

‘Economic development for whom?’

Residents of Barangay Taliptip, Bulakan, Bulacan, were forced from their coastal settlements by 2020. This opened the way to the construction of the New Manila International Airport.

The 2,500-hectare airport complex, a project of San Miguel Corp., is seen to generate at least one million jobs and boost the economy.  

Sherlyn Mazurca, a former resident in Taliptip, says that living has become more difficult after they moved inland.

“Simple na nga lang ang buhay namin tapos sisirain pa nila…Paano kami uunlad sa ganitong pamumuhay? (We had simple lives and they took them away. How can we improve the lives of our children? Mazurca spoke at a forum organized on January 19 by Pamalakaya, stating that fishermen in their small village were denied access.

After illegal aquaculture structures were found in Cavite province, the DENR began demolishing them.

AGHAM stated that the removal of fishing structures is expected to open up the possibility of projects along Cavite’s coast.

“Sinasabi nila rehabilitation para sa karagatan, para umunlad. Sino nga bang umuunlad ?” Mazurca said.

(They said that it was for rehabilitation of the bay and for development. But for whom is this development?

She acknowledged that rehabilitation would make Manila Bay attractive to tourists and visitors. “Tinitignan ba ng mga dumadayo na dayuhan ‘yung mga napapaalis, kung naghihirap ba o umuunlad?”

(Do those foreigners and visitors even consider those who were displaced, if we are suffering or if our lives have improved?)

AGHAM stressed that improving water quality and restoring marine ecosystems should be the first priority before reclamation, if at all.

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“Cutting of mangroves and reclaiming the ocean would prevent the reestablishment or enhancement of marine ecosystems. Any ongoing rehabilitation efforts would be canceled. As we face a worsening climate crisis, the conservation of mangroves and other coastal ecosystems helps in protecting coastal communities,” it said.

Dolomite beach

In 2020, the DENR transformed a polluted stretch of Manila Bay’s shoreline into an artificial white sand beach covered on crushed dolomite rocks. Officials claimed that such an undertaking would help to rehabilitate the area’s coastal resources and prevent erosions.

But scientists and environmentalist criticized the project as an expensive and temporary effort that will not address the bay’s problems.

“With the DENR’s refusal to conduct a robust scientific environmental impact assessment for the bay rehab’s centerpiece dolomite dump, we were sure to end up with expensive but useless theatrics,” said Leon Dulce, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment national coordinator.

He stated that future leaders should “focus upon genuine ecological restoration activities throughout the entire Manila Bay.”

‘Cleaner’ Manila Bay

In a January 4 statement, the DENR listed the benefits of its program. These included lower coliform levels as well as stoppage orders against illegal establishments along the coast. Cleanup activities were also conducted and water hyacinth was collected in the bay.

Roy Cimatu, Environment Secretary said that the Manila Bay Interagency Task Force had “accomplished a lot and we promise to continue our gains for clean Manila Bay in 2022.”

“As the rehabilitation continues, I call on my fellow Filipinos to be part of this huge and vital task to restore Manila Bay to its pristine condition through behavioral change. It’s high time that we totally alter our habits on waste disposal as well as our attitude on taking responsibility for one’s actions.”

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