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Manila Bay rehabilitation: A timeline

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On 16 December 2018, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), using the same strategy it implemented in the renewal of Boracay Island, decided to begin the rehabilitation of one of the metro’s most popular tourist spots – the Manila Bay.

Known for its eye-catching golden sunset, Manila Bay had become notorious for its polluted waters as a result of improper and indiscriminate dumping of toxic waste from factories and shipping operations, garbage and sewage.

“We are preparing for an all-out strategy to bring the coliform concentration in Manila Bay to a safe level, so that millions of people who reside in the bay region and neighboring areas will enjoy its waters and marine resources without fear of getting sick,” said Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu of that first meeting.

Reports from the agency showed the fecal coliform level in the bay was at 330 million MPN/100ml, exceeding the maximum safe level of 100 MPN/100ml.

“I am calling on all LGU (local government units) to step up their efforts in cleaning up the bay, because it is their own constituents who will benefit (from a rehabilitated Manila Bay),” Cimatu stressed.

To address this long-overdue problem, the DENR decided that among the first steps it should implement is to control the amount of pollutants and waste being discharged into the bay’s waters.

On 12 January, the agency started the strict enforcement of Republic Act 9275 or the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004, which focuses on “addressing water quality issues and other environmental problems in the historic bay.”

On the same day, Cimatu inspected the Estero de San Antonio de Abad in Malate, Manila where wastewater is being unloaded. This was done to determine the source of untreated wastewater being discharged into Manila Bay.

As a result, a number of establishments were given notice to set up their own sewage treatment plant (STP) to reduce contamination of seawater.

“We are giving them three months to put up their own STP,” he added.

The Environment Chief outlined a three-phased Manila Bay rehabilitation program. Phase 1 includes the clean-up and improvement of the bay’s water quality. Rehabilitation comes in Phase 2, while the last phase would cover its protection and making it sustainable.

On 15 January, he called on all the business owners to work hand-in-hand with the agency to regain the once picturesque bay and become part of its history. “I wish you join us in making history in our country,” he said.

Cimatu, along with the Interior and Tourism Secretaries, led the meeting that tackled the mission to bring back Manila Bay to its old form.

“This mission is not impossible. This mission calls for dedication and hard work from all those who will help us in this operation,” he expressed.

The agency kicked-off the effort by identifying the establishments that did not conform to the country’s environmental laws.

“I assure you that it will happen,” he explained. “We will not only clean it, but we will also be able to do something better for our countrymen and the next generation.”

Two days after calling the support of stakeholders, Cimatu said that in order to fulfill the vision of a spick-and-span Manila Bay, they were joining forces with anyone who also has the same vision as theirs – to sanitize all bodies of water that lead to the bay.

“We need to find out where the outfalls come from individually, because in just one estero we can find lots of outfalls,” he pointed out.

Likewise, he stated the facilities of concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water, which supply water to both residential and commercial establishments in Metro Manila, were also going to be inspected.

On 19 January, Cimatu assured that bringing Manila Bay to its old glory was not totally “mission impossible,” so long as every concerned citizen will partake in the project.

DENR Undersecretary Benny D. Antiporda identified the biggest hurdle to the project to be the lack of discipline among Filipinos.

“What we really need is discipline,” he said.

He explained they “are not only cleaning up the bay. We are saving something that is already on the verge of dying because, if we don’t, more and more people will die.”

In 2008, the Supreme Court issued a mandamus mandating the DENR and 12 other government agencies to rehabilitate and preserve the Manila Bay. Unfortunately, for the past 10 years, the efforts of the mandamus agencies were not felt by the nation.

Antiporda said it is different this time around.

With the comprehensive support of President Rodrigo R. Duterte, the agency is confident that it can effectively lay out everything for the rehabilitation of Manila Bay.

He admitted that, as work progresses, it is expected that more and more livelihoods and jobs within the bay zone will be affected.

After declaring not to be “mission impossible,” Cimatu appealed for government establishments to lead by example. He said government offices should be at the forefront of complying with environmental laws, particularly the Clean Water Act of 2004 and the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.

“Manila Bay is in critical condition and proper wastewater discharge and solid waste disposal play key roles to reviving it,” he said.

Establishments that will be caught overlooking the said environmental laws may face termination of their licenses to operate and pay a fine of as much as P200,000 a day.

“We will issue notices of violation to non-compliant establishments, or we will shut them down,” he stressed. “Until they comply, they cannot operate.”

Cimatu also cited the need to educate residents, especially informal settlers, to segregate their wastes before discharging them into bodies of water.

“With education, we can clean up Manila Bay. We can sustain it, and we can preserve the revived Manila Bay,” he said.

On 25 January, DENR said the real “Battle for Manila Bay” would be starting. The rehabilitation agenda would see the combined forces of more than 5,000 participants, with most coming from the DENR and other government agencies.

“This is a battle that will be won not with force or arms, but with the firm resolve to bring Manila Bay back to life,” he said.

By 27 January, the DENR officially declared the onset of the Manila Bay rehabilitation program. On that same day, more than 10,000 participants came together at the Solidarity Walk that stretches from the Quirino Grandstand to Baywalk, which also happened to be the staging area of the launch.

This mission is not impossible. This mission calls for dedication and hard work from all those who will help us in this operation

“With the commitment and determination of every Filipino to do his share in this rehabilitation effort, we have already won the battle for Manila Bay,” Cimatu declared.

Weeks after the launch, on 6 February, he stressed that to completely refurbish Manila Bay and preserve it for the long-term, the people need to observe some form of cultural change.

“If they ask me what is the most difficult part in rehabilitating Manila Bay, I would say it is to change our people’s behavior and attitude,” he expressed.

He shared that around 14 percent of the overall allocated P42 billion budget for the program will be devoted to the clean-up activities alone. This amount is roughly equivalent to P6 billion.

The remainder will be spent on the relocation of informal settlers and the provision of support systems, like improving access to jobs and livelihoods.

“The more difficult part is the relocation of over 220,000 households. But the most difficult is to maintain and sustain its clean condition for the next generation,” he said.

Furthermore, with the health of Filipinos in mind, the DENR said the reduction of coliform levels in the bay is of top priority.

“Bathing in Manila Bay can expose people to high levels of fecal coliform bacteria, which could increase their chances of developing illnesses. The government has not yet given the all-clear signal for swimming,” he stated.

The agency’s first few steps included the cleaning of the Baseco Compound in Tondo, Manila. On 11 February, the DENR collected 550 sacks of garbage from the said location.

This cleanup activity was part of the project of Task Force DENR Metro Manila (TF-DEMM), which is directly tasked to oversee the Manila Bay rehab.

The next day, the agency urged municipality mayors to support them in the rehab program via the cleanup of rivers and esteros in areas that directly discharge waste into Manila Bay.

“We have to clean all 47 esteros and all the rivers that contribute to the pollution of Manila Bay. None will be spared. We will go through them one by one,” Cimatu said during the Local Executives’ Forum on the Manila Bay Cleanup, Rehabilitation and Preservation Program.

Additionally, the DENR urged local government units to locate where the water pollution is coming from in their areas and take measures to resolve it.

With the commitment and determination of every Filipino to do his share in this rehabilitation effort, we have already won the battle for Manila Bay

“Once we clean the esteros and rivers, garbage will not go out to Manila Bay. We’ll make it a point that the water that reaches Manila Bay is clean,” he stressed.

He added, “It’s the mayors and the LGU who have the main authority over the signing of the contract with garbage collection contractors. I hope that after signing the contracts, the LGU check that contractors follow what is stipulated in the contract.”

He also cited that of 220,000 informal settlers residing along esteros leading to Manila Bay, only 10,000 will be relocated in a year.

On 20 February, 20 establishments in the cities of Pasay and Manila were found to be improperly disposing of their wastewater by the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA).

These included the Cultural Center of the Philippines and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration buildings, to name a few.

Overall, 63 establishments were cited by the LLDA with violations ever since the start of the Manila Bay rehabilitation scheme on 27 January. It comprised 16 cease and desist orders, 12 ex-parte orders and 35 notices of violations.

A DREDGING machine is used to dig waste under Manila Bay.

On 24 February, Cimatu conceived an inter-agency Manila Bay Task Force to aid the agency in systemizing and hastening the efforts of the government to refurbish polluted bodies of water.

This task force complied with Executive Order 16 signed by the President that would fortify “complete rehabilitation, restoration and conservation of the Manila Bay.”

“This order will fast-track all the work we are doing, delineate responsibilities and coordinate activities of all government agencies involved in the rehabilitation efforts,” he explained.

Other agencies and offices that are part of the task force are the chiefs of the Departments of Public Works and Highways and Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission, Local Water Utilities Administration, Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System, Philippine National Police Maritime Group, Philippine Coast Guard and Philippine Ports Authority. Manila Water and Maynilad were also made part of the task force.

On 27 February, during the celebration of World Wildlife Day 2019, Cimatu described this year’s theme to be timely and relevant: “Life Below Water: For People and Planet.”

“This year’s celebration reminds us of the importance of marine life as one of the natural resources that we need to sustain, thus giving us more reasons to continue the ongoing efforts to save Manila Bay and other bodies of water in the Philippines,” he said.

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