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Environment ‘elite special forces’

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In the campaign to save Manila Bay, barangay leaders are the environment’s “elite special forces” or even “the most powerful public officials in the country” in enforcing the law and protecting the community.

Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said as much during a dialogue with barangay leaders. He said barangay officials, particularly in the areas around Manila Bay, play a crucial role in bringing the heavily polluted bay back to its former glory.

“The barangay leaders and members who are here today could be considered special forces in this endeavor,” the former military chief quipped.

Cimatu added the government is relying on these local leaders whose support and cooperation are vital in ensuring the success of the rehabilitation dubbed the “Battle for Manila Bay,” given their proximity to nine critical rivers that need to be cleaned as part of the restoration effort.

“As much as you are the ones nearest to the rivers or the battle areas, you are also the ones closest to the people who are possible enemies or violators,” the Environment chief said.

“Influence them to stop their bad practices of dumping garbage anywhere and ask them to join you as volunteers in your cleaning campaign drive.”

As much as you are the ones nearest to the rivers or the battle areas, you are also the ones closest to the people who are possible enemies or violators.

He added: “Your mission is special. Kaya isa kayo sa mga elite forces ng (You are the elite forces of the) Manila Bay rehabilitation. Consider yourselves as the first line of defense.”

The dialogue aimed to remind the barangay executives of their role in the rehabilitation effort, as well as their responsibility in cleaning up rivers that empty into Manila Bay.

‘Call of nature’

Sherwin S. Rigor, DENR undersecretary for attached agencies and supervising undersecretary for Manila Bay Coordinating Office (MBCO), thanked the village chief executives for answering the call since the Duterte administration launched the Manila Bay rehabilitation.

He said the barangay units as well as their constituents have accepted the challenge and are one with the government in the massive undertaking of clearing the waterways around Metro Manila, including rivers, esteros, creeks and canals that ultimately dump water into the bay.

“With your support, we will make the water of Manila Bay safe,” Rigor told the attendees in the dialogue. He added public support is the key to the success of the rehabilitation program.

Pollution hotspot

Cimatu said barangay leaders should be “vigilant” for issues concerning the rivers in their areas of jurisdiction.

He noted, for example, that Manila Bay has become a “pollution hotspot” in southern part of East Asia, making it a “potential health hazard to our people, a threat to the nation’s food security and a tremendous impact to the country’s biodiversity.”

Despite this, Cimatu believes the Manila Bay rehabilitation is not an impossible mission if everyone will take part in the undertaking. “We can restore the once clean and beautiful bay if we all believe that we can do it,” he encouraged.

“We are not alone. We have the mandamus agencies and different stakeholders on our side: the national and local government agencies, the government and non-government institutions, and the civil society,” he added.

Last 27 January, the DENR launched the three-phase “Battle for Manila Bay” project where over 10,000 people joined a massive clean-up activity on Roxas Boulevard in Manila and other parts of the Manila Bay region.

More than a month since the launch, the DENR has already issued a total of 263 notices of violation and 119 cease and desist orders to establishments in Metro Manila, Central Luzon and Calabarzon that violated the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004 and other pertinent environmental laws.

Act or be gone

In the same dialogue, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretaries Epimaco V. Densing III and Martin B. Diño warned barangay chief executives they would face administrative charges or even termination from office if they fail to clean up their localities and participate in the efforts to do the same to waterways.

In a stern warning, Densing and Diño told local leaders they need to comply with the directive of Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo M. Año to conduct a weekly clean-up of waterways in their jurisdictions.

“If you do not want to do your job then you should quit [as barangay chairmen],” Densing said as he reiterated the call for public servants to comply with their mandate of protecting the environment.

“I urge you to use your funds to enforce the law,” said Diño, who served as barangay chairman for more than 10 years before his appointment to national position.

He added: “Secretary Año had issued show cause orders to at least 1,000 barangay officials in Luzon to compel them to submit a report on their clean-up of esteros, creeks, rivers and other waterways in their localities.

“The majority of garbage is coming from domestic sources. Those are your constituents and you should implement environmental laws. Remember, Republic Act 9003 makes it a criminal act to litter or throw garbage improperly. Violators of this law are criminals,” he said.

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