After the successful rehabilitation of world-famous Boracay Island, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) now wants Manila Bay to recover the natural harbor’s once clean state.
The proposal quickly received a boost as President Rodrigo Duterte, according to Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Benjamin Diokno, earmarked a budget for the cleanup on Tuesday.
The President is allotting P47 billion for the project, with Diokno noting that the fund will be used to also unclog waterways that lead to Manila Bay and for the relocation of informal settlers living around these waterways.
Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the fund will be sourced from the Road Users’ Tax (RUT).
Funded by RUT
Panelo said the utilization of the fund was discussed during the Cabinet meeting, adding the Manila Bay cleanup and the financing of the peoples’ hospital needs may become priority expenses from the RUT.
“A portion of the fund can also be used to benefit those affected by TD (tropical depression) ‘Usman,’ especially those in the Bicol region,” Panelo said.
DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu recently hinted at a crackdown on contributory pollutants to the historic bay, noting that the 2008 Supreme Court order to concerned government agencies to clean up, rehabilitate and preserve Manila Bay must be enforced.
Panelo also added Mr. Duterte renewed his call for the creation of a national body that will “address the emerging challenges to disaster resiliency.”
“He asked Secretary Roy Cimatu. And his timeline — because of the size of Manila Bay, the number of rivers and waterways that need cleaning — he told the President that hopefully it will be done by the end of his term,” Panelo added.
The spokesman also shared that a similar approach employed in the rehabilitation of Boracay last year will be applied in the cleanup of Manila Bay.
Establishments operating near Manila Bay found violating environmental laws will be closed down and informal settlers will be relocated, Panelo bared.
These, however, will happen in the later stages of the cleanup.
What’s more pressing, Panelo said, is the release of the funds so the cleanup can start. It can only happen once the Road Board, which has control over the RUT, is abolished.
“The abolition, that will come sooner than we expect because both Houses have agreed on it. It’s for Congress to decide when to submit the enrolled bill for its abolition,” he said.
In a separate interview, Diokno also hailed the Philippine economy’s steady growth, saying the 6.5 to 6.7 percent rate in 2018 is still one of the world’s fastest growth rates, noting that he is optimistic that the country’s economic growth will pick up to at least seven to eight percent in the years to come.
“You just trust your government. We are doing everything we can to make up for past neglect,” Diokno said.
Economic growth crawled to 6.1 percent in the period from July to September 2018, dragged by storm damage to crops. Official data for the succeeding quarter and the full year are due on 24 January.
“The President is very much aware that it is agriculture that is dragging the economy,” Diokno said, adding Mr. Duterte had described agriculture as the “weakest link” in the economy.
Diokno recalled a recent meeting between the President and Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, noting that the President was “putting pressure” on Piñol to aid the farm sector.
“Some P5 billion for seeds and farm implements was recently released to the Department of Agriculture,” Diokno said.
With Kristina Maralit