Manila Bay in death throes
“We have turned Manila Bay into a toilet bowl. We take a dump on it every day but we do not even flush it. Aren’t we so vulgar?”
Thus did Antonio Oposa, the leading voice in the region in environmental law and a 2009 recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, direct public attention to the festering state of the historic body of water.
Speaking last week at a hearing called by the Senate committee on the environment and natural resources, Oposa reported that the level of fecal coliform bacteria — found in human and animal waste — in Manila Bay had quintupled since 1999, when he petitioned the Supreme Court for action.
As a result of Oposa’s petition, the Supreme Court in 2008 ordered 13 government agencies to rehabilitate Manila Bay and maintain its waters to safe levels for swimming and other forms of contact recreation.
But a decade after that ruling, as pointed out by Oposa, Manila Bay remains — and in fact is even more — frightfully filthy.
Sen. Cynthia Villar, chair of the investigating committee, lamented that the 13 agencies — the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources, of Interior and Local Government, of Health, of Education, of Public Works and Highways, and of Budget and Management, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Philippine Ports Authority, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the Philippine National Police-Maritime Group, the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, and the Local Water Utilities Administration — had not done what they were explicitly ordered to do.
Villar zeroed in on the families that had settled along Manila Bay, whose lack of toilets meant that their human waste went straight into the waters.
“We must put a stop to the open defecation of informal settlers in the Port of Manila,” she said. “Their number keeps growing.”
There are other issues that need to be addressed, such as plastic pollution. Photos of Manila Bay choking on all manner of plastic waste are dramatic illustrations of its death throes.
Villar recently expressed alarm over a University of Georgia study identifying the Philippines as the third biggest generator of plastic waste in the world, behind China and Indonesia.
“China and Indonesia are wealthy countries and can easily solve their problem on plastic pollution,” Villar observed. “If we do not do something about this, it will [just] be a matter of time [before] we become the top producer of plastic waste.”
Indeed, Filipinos need to be better educated about the environment, as pointed out by University of Santo Tomas professors Moises Norman Z. Garcia and Maria Rosario Virginia Cobar-Garcia in a 2016 article.
The authors cited a DepEd order to all department heads to push for the establishment of the Youth for Environment in Schools Organization (YES-O), “a school-based, voluntary, cocurricular organization that would serve as the setting for learners’ actions toward the protection and conservation of the environment for future generations.”
The authors further stated: “The Philippines is lagging behind other nations when it comes to its Environmental Performance Index in 2015, manifested by the country’s overall ranking at 114th among 178 countries. This is based on a nation’s performance to address high-priority environmental issues—the protection of human health from environmental hazards and ecosystems protection.”
There have been multiple calls to clean up Manila through the years yet the bay, which is just outside Malacañang and quite near Manila City Hall, remains in a terrible state, its fabled sunset — visually one of the best in the world — marred by the filth of the waters.
In 2015, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada announced a cleanup of Manila Bay that drew thousands of volunteers.
“Whatever our backgrounds are, we are united for one purpose: to clean up this bay and its environs, and to restore it to its pristine glory,” he said then.
Estrada drew flak last year for purportedly using the cleanup as a publicity gimmick after a video showed one of his assistants dumping trash into the bay, just in time for the mayor to scoop it up as cameras clicked.
There is no more time for photo ops and campaign launches. It’s time to flush the toilet bowl. It’s later than we think.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.