The life of great cities begin beside bodies of water, and when such cities neglect that which give them life, decline and death naturally follow. Manila Bay lent its naturally protected harbor to the rise of Manila from where the country is governed. Yet for all its generosity over hundreds of years, it has been treated as a sewer and dumpsite of the foulest effluence that Manileños could come up with. One river outfall draining to Manila Bay contributes 1.990 billion of fecal coliform, most probable number (MPN) per 100ml. If nothing is done, Manila Bay will choke the life out of Manila.

Thankfully, we begin to see action now in these times when going beyond lip service is needed. President Rodrigo Duterte, coming from a victorious campaign to clean up Boracay, next set his sights to the clean-up of Manila Bay. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), all its related agencies and environmentalist groups, could do nothing but spring to action. On January 27, 2019, some 5,000 people joined the solidarity walk to mark the start of the Battle FOR Manila Bay.

The Manila Bay task force, composed of 13 agencies—namely, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Philippine National Police Maritime Group (PNP-MG), Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), and Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA)—have joined forces to clean up, rehabilitate, and preserve the Manila Bay.

On the same day, the DENR, through the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA), proceeded to close down the two famous restaurants—the Aristocrat Restaurant and Gloria Maris Shark’s Fin Restaurant—for dumping wastewater into Manila Bay. A cease and desist order was issued on a wastewater treatment facility of The Esplanade in Pasay City for the same violation.

This is just the beginning of a long, arduous fight.

In January 1999, a band of law students from the University of the Philippines and a group of concerned citizens filed a lawsuit with a simple prayer: to compel the government to clean up the Manila Bay.

Ten years after the filing of the ambitious lawsuit in a trial court, the Supreme Court (SC) upheld the decision of the Regional Trial Court and Court of Appeals ordering 13 mandamus agencies “to clean up, rehabilitate, and preserve Manila Bay, and restore and maintain its waters to SB level to make them fit for swimming, skin diving, and other forms of contact recreation.”

But despite well-meaning intentions since the decision of the SC, no one has really turned the clean-up of Manila Bay into a full-blown battle. Despite the mandamus, the pollution of the bay continued unabated.

Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) share a helping hand to make Manila Bay clean again

Presbitero Velasco, who wrote the unanimous decision in the landmark Writ of Kalikasan case on Manila Bay, pointed out in his speech at a symposium on Environmental Decision-Making, the Rule of Law and Environmental Justice, “From my perspective, the causes of this unfortunate development are many and varied. Foremost of these are years of deplorable neglect by, if not abject indifference of, the citizenry and government institutions, when they could have minimized, if not stopped the damage.”

But as can be gleaned from the case of Boracay’s rehabilitation, nothing is impossible if everyone will cooperate and do their part in solving a seemingly insurmountable environmental problem. It is everyone’s fervent hope Manila Bay will also be saved like Boracay.

Case in point: According to data gathered by LEAGUE, only 15% (2.4M out of 16.3M) of the water-served population in the NCR are connected to a sewerage system and about 3.84% (187,000 out of 4,863,938) of water-served population outside the NCR are provided with sanitation services. Only about 60% (107 out of 178) of LGUs have approved 10-Year Solid Waste Management Plan.

To make matters worse, 233,000 informal settler families (ISFs) residing along esteros in Manila have no proper sewerage and solid waste management. Informal settlers of Estero de Binondo, Estero de Magdalena, Estero dela Reina, Estero de Vitas all drain their wastes directly into these esteros, which flow into the Manila Bay.

To curb these problems, an executive order is proposed to create an interagency task force to rehabilitate Manila Bay, which will be done in three phases. The first phase involves the immediate clean-up of the bay and all its tributaries, the emplacement of sewerage treatment facilities, the installation of silt curtains, and the planning for relocation of informal settlers. In the meantime, temporary sanitation facilities and innovative sanitation projects (“Bucket Brigade”) for informal settlers residing along esteros and shorelines would be provided pending relocation.

The MMDA with their dredging equipment working hard at the Manila Bay

The second phase involves the rehabilitation of old sewer lines in the NCR, the actual relocation of informal settlers, and the implementation of such other measures to achieve the target of making Manila Bay into Saline Water Class B level (fit for swimming).

The third phase of the project involves education and sustainment, which aims to ensure continuing education of citizens to protect the gains of the project, and to sustain law enforcement and monitoring. To ensure that compliance to the Clean Water Act is observed, intensification or scaling up of law enforcement and filing of cases against erring Barangay Captains will be strictly implemented.

As creatures of habit, it is easier for us to be skeptical when faced by a huge undertaking like the rehabilitation of the Manila Bay. But it is during these challenging times that we need to work together. Embracing pessimism at this point in time is tantamount to surrendering to a battle. Consider Boracay as a source of inspiration. When this tiny tropical island was rehabilitated, Sec. Cimatu himself drew inspiration from it and paved the way for the Battle for Manila Bay. The solidarity walk of the interagency task force mandated to rehabilitate the Manila Bay speaks for itself. The domino effect of positivity has reached the Filipino people’s consciousness, from the public to private sectors.

Every battle begins in the mind. With the right mindset, the Battle for Manila Bay can be won. —THE LEAGUE STAFF


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