We welcome the Duterte administration’s ambitious plan to carry out a major P47-billion cleanup of Manila Bay, the most polluted body of water in the country due to domestic sewage, toxic industrial effluents and waste from factories and shipping operations. Over the decades, the pollution of the natural harbor has become emblematic of how we, as a people, have failed miserably to protect our environment and preserve it for our children.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which will lead the effort, says the government will show the same political will that enabled it to undertake the massive rehabilitation of the popular tourist destination of Boracay Island. Given the daunting task ahead, it will have to—and do so much more.
Urban planner and architect Felino Palafox Jr. in a radio interview, spoke of the magnitude of the effort involved. The catchment area of the bay, he said, is 1.7 million hectares—the size of 26 Singapores or 1,700 Boracays.
In its campaign, which officially begins Jan. 27, the DENR warns that establishments found polluting the waters of the bay could face closure.
But the problem isn’t only the hundreds of businesses that discharge untreated wastewater, it also involves tens of thousands of squatters who live by the shore and the various waterways that flow into the bay.
Results of a recent water sampling showed that restaurants, medical facilities and even the zoo leaked massive amounts of wastewater that end up in the bay. River mouths contained an average of 330 million MPN (most probable number) fecal coliform, way above the baseline level of 100 MPN.
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, who oversaw Boracay’s cleanup, says the Manila Bay rehabilitation project will begin with discussions of a multi-year master plan with various partner agencies.
The DENR will also work with local government units, given that the bay spans parts of Metro Manila, Central Luzon and the Calabarzon region. LGUs are expected to step up their efforts because it is their constituents that will benefit most from a rehabilitated bay, Cimatu says.
The administration’s cleanup is in line with the 2008 Supreme Court decision ordering 13 government agencies to clean up Manila Bay and restore its water quality to Class SB or safe for recreational activities such as swimming.
It is a long road ahead, but if the administration can clean up Manila Bay and ensure that it remains clean, it will have done what no other administration before it has done—and that is a legacy worth leaving.