Sunday, September 23, 2018
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Human Face

Manila Bay a toilet bowl

If you take a second look at Manila Bay on the map, its shape is somewhat like that of a urinal. No, a toilet bowl, insists lawyer and environmental activist Antonio Oposa Jr. It is a toilet bowl that has not been flushed, he adds. It is a toilet bowl not just in shape but also because of what it has become, both figuratively and literally.

At the Monday hearing called by the Senate committee on environment and natural resources chaired by Sen. Cynthia Villar on the rehabilitation of Manila Bay, a bristling Oposa spoke about the worsening state of the waters.

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For his quixotic advocacies for Mother Nature, Oposa was conferred the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2009. He was honored for being “an environmental activist who advocates for field enforcement of fishing and logging laws, environmental litigation, education on sustainable living, advising local governments on crafting environment-preserving legislation and establishing marine sanctuaries in the Philippines.”

Oposa worked hard to win the 2008 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the previous rulings of lower courts on the 1999 petition of a group of citizens to compel government agencies and local governments to clean up Manila Bay and restore it to its healthy state. Among the petitioners were Oposa’s students at the University of the Philippines College of Law as well as his youngest son who was then a little boy. Included were the talaba (oysters), tahong (mussels) and all other endangered marine life.

He acted as counsel, and spent time, money and energy to pursue the case even after the petitioners had graduated.

With the Supreme Court justices speaking unanimously and with finality from their perch, Manila Bay could then claim the care it deserved — and those who defied the previous rulings be damned. Or so it seemed.

Tasked to implement the ruling were the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as lead agency, and the local governments of Metro Manila and six provinces with shores on the bay or have tributaries that flow into the bay. Also the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, the Departments of Health, Agriculture, and Public Works and Highways, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Philippine National Police Maritime Group, the Philippine Ports Authority, and the Local Water Utilities Administration.

I wrote then: “Ecstatic, the Harvard-trained Oposa could not contain himself and waxed poetic. ‘I try to reach for the stars,’ he told me. ‘Often I hit my head on the lamppost. But sometimes I am able to soar to the skies, and maybe, for a moment, touch the face of God.’ Arguing in the Supreme Court on this case was, to Oposa, his ‘finest moment’ as an environmental lawyer.”

Last year, Harvard Law School honored Oposa (1 of 14 honorees and the only Asian) for the work he has done for the environment.

The DENR’s 1990s data showed that Manila Bay had a fecal coliform content of about 1 million MPN (most probable number). The safe figure is 200 MPN. Now, Oposa told the Senate hearing, the figure is 5 million MPN.

Boracay waters a “cesspool”? Manila Bay is a bowl of unflushed human ebak. An ocular inspection of the coasts will tell you why.

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Oposa had called the 2008 Supreme Court ruling “revolutionary.” I had quoted extensively from the ruling written by Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. (“Revolutionary SC ruling on Manila Bay, 2” Jan. 15, 2009).

It ended with: “The heads of … MMDA, DENR, DepEd, DOH, DA, DPWH, DBM, PCG, PNP Maritime Group, DILG, and also of MWSS, LWUA, and PPA, in line with the principle of ‘continuing mandamus,’ shall, from finality of this Decision, each submit to the Court a quarterly progressive report of the activities undertaken in accordance with this Decision.”

So how have we come to this? How did Manila Bay get worse over the years? Did any of the cited government agencies even so much as submitted one quarterly progressive report?

The historic gateway to the heart of the Philippines is now a toilet bowl. Out of frustration, Oposa has taken to painting and will soon have his first exhibit. But that is another story.

Send feedback to cerespd@gmail.com

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TAGS: Antonio Oposa Jr., Human Face, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, Manila Bay cleanup
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