Ersatz Boracay in Manila Bay
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources started dumping last week “white sand” on a portion of the Manila Bay beach, near the Baywalk strip along Roxas Boulevard, ostensibly as part of a “beach nourishment” program.
That initial justification, however, has grown lamer by the day, as more details about the project emerge and more questions are raised by a bewildered public.
There’s DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda’s hilarious defense that the “white sand”—crushed dolomite boulders imported from Cebu, it turned out—was a way to bring the Boracay experience to Metro Manila residents, and as a means to encourage Filipinos to better care for the environment: “Ilalapit natin sa kanila ’yung white sand. Dito po ay mararamdaman nila na kahit paano ay para bang nasa Boracay na rin sila.” It will tell the people, he added, “na it’s about time for us na pangalagaan ang ating kapaligiran at panatiliin nating malinis.”
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque offered a different rationale: The makeover, estimated to cost P389 million, would improve Filipinos’ mental health amid the stifling quarantine measures and the COVID-19 pandemic, he asserted. And it would make Manila Bay “one of the most picturesque sceneries in the whole world” as its world-renowned sunset would be framed against a “white beach.”
DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu, asked to comment on concerns expressed by the Department of Health that inhaling dolomite could lead to respiratory illnesses, stoutly defended the program during the House deliberations on the DENR budget last Tuesday. The dolomite particles were three times bigger than regular sand and won’t go up in the air, the former military chief of staff maintained. (The DOH later backtracked and supported Cimatu’s line.) Also, the crushed dolomite would supposedly help lower the acidity of the notoriously toxic waters of Manila Bay.
But while Antiporda, Roque, and Cimatu are waxing poetic about the beautification project, environmental groups, academics, and legislators are seeing red.
Oceana Philippines blasted the white-sand dumping for being “a total waste of people’s money”; the sand would be simply washed away by big waves and would mix with the black sand that is a natural element of Manila Bay, it pointed out.
Geologist Dr. Carlo Arcilla of the UP National Institute of Geological Sciences seconded that view and projected that the sand would be gone in just a year: “Kapag dumating [ang bagyo] at may isang nataon kahit hindi malakas dumaan ng Manila Bay, tanggal lahat ’yan… Sigurado itong mawawala.”
The project is unnecessary, protested Greenpeace Philippines, as the “white sand” would simply sit on top of the “uncleaned environment” in the area caused by the unabated urban trash and raw sewage disgorged into Manila Bay every day by the millions of residents of Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
Was careful study done before the project got greenlighted? DENR Undersecretary Jonas Leones admitted during the House deliberations on the DENR budget this week that the “beach nourishment” project was not part of the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master Plan adopted by the National Economic and Development Authority. Neither was it included in the Manila Bay rehabilitation plan posted on the DENR website.
Rep. Ruffy Biazon pressed the DENR for a copy of any study on the feasibility and scientific justification for the project, but the agency was unable to produce any. The DENR may have also violated its own rules when the Mines and Geosciences Bureau in Central Visayas issued a permit to transport the crushed dolomite from the municipality of Alcoy in Cebu to Manila, without prior consultation with the town or the provincial government of Cebu. Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia has ordered a halt to the mining operations in Alcoy.
Per Sen. Nancy Binay’s blunt assessment: “Walang public consultation, walang environmental clearance, hilaw ang EIA/EIS, at malinaw na bara-bara at ’di comprehensive ang plano.”
The DENR may have good intentions in pursuing the rehabilitation of Manila Bay, but the nature of this particular project, let alone the timing — in the middle of the worst public health crisis and economic downturn in the country’s history, with millions of citizens begging for aid and when every cent of public money should count and cannot be frittered away on ill-considered expenditures (President Duterte on several occasions now: “Wala na tayong pera”)—smacks of a glaring obtuseness and detachment from reality.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones, for instance, said that if the DepEd got instead the millions allocated for the project, they would have gone to purchasing gadgets and producing modules for students and teachers forced to do their classes online. Now, all that money may end up washed out to sea along with the ersatz Boracay beach in Manila Bay.
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