Cleaning up Manila Bay

"Tokyo Bay was in a similar situation decades ago."



President Duterte could be embarking on what can only be termed as the most ambitious environmental cleanup project in the country. This is the cleaning of Manila Bay. If he succeeds, it will be one of the crowning achievements of his presidency.

The size and scope of this undertaking is mind-boggling. No one expected President Duterte to be an environmental president but he is turning out to be one. The cleaning of Manila Bay is daunting for sure considering that over the last decades, the government cannot seem to clean Pasig River which is a much easier and smaller undertaking than taking on Manila Bay. Before the war, Manila Bay was the destination of Manila residents for swimming and picnicking. This went on until immediately after the war.

Then the bay became polluted. First, because of the water being drained by the Pasig which was dirty. Then, when squatters started to invade the banks of the river and used the river as their waste disposal area, the problem worsened. Then, industrial waste like chemicals were dumped into the river. The pollution was somewhat lessened due to the non-government efforts to clean the river but the river is for all intents and purposes dead. No fish can survive in the river. Today, it would be dangerous to swim in the river or for that matter the Manila Bay although on some occasions, we still see some children jumping and swimming in the Bay during the hot summer months. Fecal matter was dangerously high and worsening.

It would be of interest to some of us to know that Tokyo Bay was in a way like our Manila Bay until the Japanese started to clean it up in the early 1960s. It was also a monumental undertaking but today, Tokyo Bay is environmentally clean.

We are therefore embarking on an effort never seen before. It will be expensive, and requires every level of government to participate. This would mean that the participation of Local Government Units is essential for the project to succeed and it should not be limited to government alone. Here is an opportunity for all environmental groups to participate.

Most important of all, the public must also embrace the project and participate. No one could just be a bystander. If the public leaves the effort to the government and non-government groups, the project will not succeed.

This is one of the reasons why the Pasig River cannot be kept clean permanently. Squatters living along the river banks continue to discharge their waste into the river. The Duterte administration is targeting 2022 for the project to be completed but considering the size of the problem, it is doubtful whether the project could be completed in so short a time. What is important however, is that it must start now and whatever is not completed will be finished by the incoming administration. Besides, the harder part of the project is seeing to it that when the bay has been cleaned, that it stays clean permanently for everyone to enjoy. The difference between this new plan of the government about Manila Bay and the previous efforts is this time, there is money to bankroll the project. President Duterte plans to use the P47-billion collected from the road users’ tax to clean the bay and because vehicles will continue to increase, this money will also increase thereby providing sufficient funds to finish the project. It is still not clear how the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources intends to implement the project but at least the Department has some kind of experience because of Boracay and the others that it has tackled. This is important if the Manila Bay cleanup is to succeed.

Another issues to consider is whether DENR will seek foreign participation or whether it feels that it has already sufficient technical expertise to handle the huge project alone. If there is foreign participation, to what extent? Will it be limited to hiring foreign consultants for matters that are technically beyond the expertise of our local engineers?

Whatever, I do not think we will be seeing anything very soon. The DENR once given its marching orders by President Duterte, will have a lot of preparations to do. It will take time for the Road Users Board to be abolished and the funds to be transferred to the DENR. What we have now is a clear intention of President Duterte to clean Manila Bay. Let us hope that he will follow this through.

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Up to this time, AKO Bicol party-list Representative Rodel Batocabe who was killed on Dec. 22, 2018 of last year is the highest elected official killed leading to the 2019 elections which is four months away. There were vice mayors, mayors and a former congressman killed last year for various reasons with the police suspecting that politics is one of the main reasons for the violence. 

The Police seem to have solved the Batocabe killing, in record time with the arrest and confession of the alleged gunman, Henry Yuson, an alleged former  military and member of the NPA. Five of his accomplices have also been taken into custody and they all seem to be pointing at Daraga Mayor Carlwyn Baldo as the alleged mastermind. Mayor Baldo, not surprisingly, denied any participation. But the Police has compelling evidence.

If the police is right that it was Mayor Baldo who masterminded the killing, why did he use people known in the community instead of outsiders who cannot be easily identified? It seemed brazen—or simply stupid.

Topics: Rodel Batocabe , Manila Bay , Rodrigo Duterte , Henry Yuson , Carlwyn Baldo , Department of Environmental and Natural Resources
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