On 27 January this year, more than 10,000 Filipinos marched not to the beat of war drums but to a strong resolve to rehabilitate Manila’s most beloved bay. The aim? To bring it back to its former glory in what will be known as the Sixth Battle for Manila Bay.
Starting with a solidarity walk and armed only with shovels, pitchforks, garbage bags and even their bare hands, the volunteers coming from both the private and public sectors scoured the stretch of Roxas Boulevard from the US Embassy to the Philippine Navy headquarters. They had come for a noble cause: to pick up debris that littered the bay, even as planners from the government have devised a strategy to permanently clean Manila Bay and make its waters safe again.
“Manila Bay is not a lost cause,” Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said. “With the commitment and determination of every individual to contribute to the rehabilitation, there is no doubt we will win this battle.”
With the battlecry “Clean Manila Bay,” Cimatu said it is the moral responsibility of every Filipino to treasure Manila Bay as a natural resource and historically significant destination by working for its restoration.
The first Battle for Manila Bay occurred in 1571 between Rajah Sulayman and the Spanish colonizers. The second was in 1647 between the Dutch and Spanish navies. In 1762, the third battle erupted when a British armada temporarily gained control of Manila from the Spaniards. In 1898, the fourth one ended the Spanish-American War with a mock battle, a moro-moro between American forces led by Admiral George Dewey and Spanish forces led by Rear Admiral Patricio Montojo.
The orchestrated skirmish saw the transfer of control of the Philippines from the Spaniards to the Americans after the latter paid $20 million to Spain.
The fifth major battle in Manila Bay occurred in 1945 when the Americans launched an offensive to liberate the Philippines from its Japanese occupiers. Over 100,000 of Manila’s sons and daughters lost their lives during the month-long battle, with the city losing most of its architectural and cultural heritage dating back to the Spanish period.
However, the Environment Chief considers the latest battle as the toughest of them all because it involves the revitalization of the Philippines as a nation.
“Cleaning up Manila Bay is part of our internal cleansing. In cleaning Manila Bay, we are also embarking on a culture change – doing away with the bad habit of throwing garbage and degrading our environment,” Cimatu said.
“Manila Bay had been a treasure for many generations past. Let us keep it a treasure for ourselves and for those who will come after us,” he added, stressing how the bay is an integral part of Filipino culture, as well as a major contributor to the country’s social and economic development.
Indeed, the bay with its natural harbor hosts the Port of Manila and the Manila International Container Port which brings in 54 percent to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).
“This is by far my most important mission,” he said, stressing it is a major source of fresh seafood for Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
However, a dirty Manila Bay is a threat to food security.
For his part, DENR Undersecretary Benny D. Antiporda pointed out the lack of discipline among Filipinos as the single biggest obstacle to the success of the rehabilitation.
“We are looking at one major stumbling block – it is the lack of discipline among our countrymen,” Antiporda said. “What we need is discipline.”
“We are not only cleaning up the bay. We are saving something worth saving because if we allow it to die, more people might perish.”
He added: “We are not only cleaning up the bay. We are saving something worth saving because if we allow it to die, more people might perish.”
In 2008, the Supreme Court issued a mandamus directing the DENR and 12 other government agencies to clean up, rehabilitate and preserve Manila Bay and to restore and maintain its water quality to a level fit for swimming and other contact recreation.
Antiporda lamented how, in the last decade, the efforts of concerned agencies have not been visible or felt at all. He attributed previous unsuccessful efforts to “weak coordination and collaboration among agencies.”
This time, however, he said the DENR and other government agencies have the full backing of President Rodrigo Duterte, allowing them to effectively enforce the law and ensure compliance of local government units with their mandate towards environmental protection.
He added the DENR is coming up with interventions that would hasten the improvement of Manila Bay’s water quality. At the same time, he allayed fears that the rehabilitation would result in the loss of jobs and livelihood within the Manila Bay area.
Cimatu agreed with Antiporda and cited the efforts of the DENR to rehabilitate Boracay which many naysayers doubted but the agency proved them wrong.
“We can restore back the once clean and beautiful bay if we all believe that we can do it. 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 civil society,” he added.
After the launch, the DENR issued a 10-point “Pledge to the Environment.” The pledge includes nurturing everything that God had created as well as protecting the county which is the cradle to our future.
“I pledge that I will protect humanity by preserving the environment,” the document says. “I pledge to keep my community clean as its responsible member.”
Moreover, it invokes a promise to encourage one’s family, relatives, friends and neighbors to prioritize the protection of nature.