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Commentary

Save Manila Bay

05:03 AM July 18, 2018

As a young boy, small pail in hand, I would gather mussels, shore crabs (which I knew as talangka), and fish along the breakwall of Manila Bay on Roxas Boulevard, for my family’s meal. I imagined myself like the fishermen who were a daily sight. During the summer, some boys came to swim on the water after their circumcision, as ordered by their “arbularyo” who believed that the seawater was good for sterilizing their fresh proofs of newly achieved manhood. With them, I would swim and sometimes watch the sunset.

How clean Manila Bay was in those days. But that is now history. Gone are the mussels, shore crabs and fish. Those fishermen are now waste pickers of plastic trash that they sell to junk shops for some money to buy fish. Those who continue fishing have had to venture far away, braving all sorts of danger from the sea and stiff competition from big fishing fleets.

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Manila Bay and many other bodies of water of this country are now garbage dumpsites. Two decades ago, we wrote about waste management, listing down the kinds of waste cited in several references: plastic, the most notorious; paper, cardboard, food, yard, field and animal wastes; human waste, “especially where no adequate sanitation facilities exist such as in the slums” (and in Boracay et al.); factory wastes such as textile, rubber, leather, petroleum products, wood, metals, glass; solvent wastes, waste oils, oil emulsions and mixtures, pesticide wastes, pharmaceutical wastes, refinery wastes such as acid tar and spent clay, phenolic wastes, organic wastes containing halogen, sulfur, phosphorus or nitrogen compound; and solid materials contaminated with hazardous chemicals. Some of these are from sea vessels such as those docked near the breakwall or sailing the waters.

In December 2008, the Supreme Court issued a mandamus to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority; the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources, Education, Health, Agriculture, Public Works and Highways, Budget and Management, Interior and Local Government; and the Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine National Police and the Maritime Group to clean up Manila Bay.

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In September 2017, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu inspected the garbage transfer station in Pier 18 in Manila Bay. Garbage was all over the seashore and floating on the sea, as shown on television. The DENR suspended the firm in charge and fined it P150,000 until it could comply with environment clearance requirements. But will the firm be able to control the toxic leachate from the garbage continuously polluting Manila Bay, and thus violating the Supreme Court mandamus?

President Duterte’s drastic move to close and rehabilitate Boracay Island should also be done to Manila Bay and other toxic tourist areas and communities. The local government units’ dependence on the haul-and-dump system of waste disposal has caused garbage to build up through the years. This has been aggravated by the inadequate action of concerned government agencies and businesses, especially those manufacturing and selling nonenvironmentally acceptable products and packaging. Factor is as well the indifference of individuals, households and
establishments.

Can the President galvanize all those concerned to undertake honest-to-goodness and sustained action to close and rehabilitate all dumpsite areas and end centralized waste collection? The Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, or Republic Act No. 9003, mandates waste segregation at source (households, establishments), recycling and composting; and imposes penalties on violators.

Garbage haulers still under contract with local government units must be ordered instead to rehabilitate esteros and other damaged and polluted areas; and re-green denuded, quarried, and mined forests and watersheds where they have dumped the garbage. Manufacturers should phase out plastics from their products and packaging. Biodegradable environment-friendly bags, baskets, spoons, forks, plates, cups, etc. must be the rule in all stores and restaurants.

Biodegradable waste turned compost can bring back topsoil and enrich farmlands to feed the country, alleviate poverty, reforest barren mountains, and clear our waters and our air. This ecological spirit and practice will transform our environment and our society.

Mr. President, save Manila Bay!

Joey C. Papa is president of Bangon Kalikasan Movement.

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TAGS: environment, Manila Bay, pollution, waste
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