Restoring the luster of Manila Bay

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After successfully rehabilitating the white beach of Boracay last year, the Duterte administration is looking at bringing back the natural luster of Manila Bay, considered one of the most stunning natural harbors or ports in the world.

Manila Bay comprises a vast sea area of 770 squares miles or 2,000 square kilometers, bounded by Cavite and Metro Manila on the east, Bulacan and Pampanga on the north, and Bataan on the west and northwest.

Some people are saying Baseco in the Port Area, a community where homes stand on stilts along Manila Bay, could have been another Boracay if the area had been properly preserved.

The government is dead serious in rehabilitating the bay, spearheaded by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) which is allocating about P45 billion for a three-phased rehabilitation project – clean-up and water quality improvement, rehabilitation and protection and sustainability over the next three to seven years.

Manila Bay has a deep history. It was the setting for the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898, in which American troops led by Commodore George Dewey seized the area and where they destroyed and captured all major Spanish ships.

In honor of the American commodore, the main road that rings the bay in Manila was known as Dewey Boulevard before it was changed to its current name.
But it seems this significant saga had been ignored by many of us. With our apathy and abuse for the last 50 years, we turned it into a garbage dump and a toilet bowl that we do not even bother to flush.

Along the coast of the bay, more than 200,000 informal settlers erected their makeshift abodes, inconsiderately disposing and dumping their wastes into the bay.

Large manufacturing companies, restaurants and hotels situated near Manila Bay also contributed in turning it from good to bad, from breathtaking to ugly, from livable to eerie.

It was a relief that over the weekend, the Manila Bay rehabilitation project begun. According to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), 10 truckloads of waste equivalent to 46 tons of garbage were collected by some 5,000 government employees and volunteers from different sectors. This is a good start for a long and arduous clean-up drive.
DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda said there is a stronger need to have a more efficient coordination between the national government and the various local government units having jurisdiction over Manila Bay.

He reiterated that if the effect in rehabilitating the bay is to succeed, all government entities responsible for bringing it to its former splendor should work seamlessly together. I totally agree with Undersecretary Benny, who also spearheads the DENR’s Solid Waste Management Group.

It is also apparent that the President is not making a joke when he publicly announced that he will order the closure of establishments that will be found dumping their wastes or contributing to the pollution of Manila Bay.

DENR is bold enough to identify and warn three large restaurants found without their own sewage treatment plants (STP) for proper wastewater disposal. Because of its report, Manila Zoo was temporary closed until it fixes its STP.

The local hotel association has already expressed the readiness of its members to comply. There are bigger bay polluters, however, as indicated during typhoons, when tons of garbage wash up along Roxas Boulevard including the service road. That solid waste does not come from the hotels, but from the informal settlements and fishing communities around the bay.
The government must firmly enforce the proper upkeep of our rivers, seas and tourist destinations. A law must be created to impose heavy penalties on those who are found destroying the natural environment.

Like its penchant for eradicating illegal drugs in the country, the Duterte administration must also be rigorous and determined in ensuring that our natural environment is properly preserved.

Despite calls of some sectors to postpone the effort, the government must not stop and proceed in rehabilitating the bay. Indeed, the biggest challenge for the government is to ensure that the more than 200,000 informal settlers are relocated accordingly.

The rehabilitation of Manila Bay is an ambitious project. DENR boldly said by yearend, Filipinos can swim in the bay. Let’s hope this is real. We hope the government really has the political will to thoroughly clean Manila Bay. We hope it is not another ningas-kugon endeavor.

If we can succeed in restoring its beauty and luster, it has all the potential to become another tourist attraction. Ordinary people residing in Metro Manila will have another interesting destination to visit and marvel that is comparable to Boracay.

Maybe someday we can see the Manila Bay of olden days once again and enjoy a cleaner sea without the tons of garbage and bacteria-filled water.

I am dreaming, yes, I am. But isn’t our country worth fighting for? Isn’t Manila’s natural harbor, the one with the world-famous view of the iconic sunset, worth dreaming of?

What are your thoughts?

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