Better rehab plan
On paper, the Manila Bay “beach nourishment project” looked environmentally correct: It is supposed to rehabilitate and protect the bay’s coastal resources and prevent flooding and erosion, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ FAQs. But, as scientists from the University of the Philippines point out, the government instead implemented a project that is “even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as to the communities in the area.”
Manila Bay, according to the scientists from UP’s Institute of Biology, plays a significant role in maintaining ecological integrity, meaning the ability to support and maintain the ecosystem in the area, including forests, mangroves, wetlands, and mudflats that are sources of food and are habitats for marine and wildlife. Environmentalists now fear that the crushed dolomite, commonly used in construction, that was dumped on the 500-meter stretch of the baywalk will kill the bay’s marine life and, once eroded, will cause marine sedimentation. This could worsen the bay’s already dismal state and result in the loss of globally important waterbird sites as well as sardine spawning grounds (just last year, a new sardine species, Sardinella pacifica, was discovered in the bay), among other environmentally ruinous effects.
“The recent effort of dumping dolomite sand on a reclaimed part of Manila Bay is not the best way of spending government money; a critical resource during the pandemic that could have been put to better use by spending for the needs of medical frontliners and the millions of our hungry fellow Filipinos,” said the Institute in a statement last week. It added that the millions of pesos used for the project “could have been directed to more viable, scientifically sound projects that can restore Manila Bay to a state that is fit for recreation.”
A scientifically sound alternative the UP experts are proposing is for the government to plant mangroves and rehabilitate mangrove habitats in the area, as a cheaper, more cost-effective “nature-based solution” that will at the same time help improve the bay’s biodiversity and ability to withstand climate change. “Having ecologically healthy mangroves will also help lessen heavy metal contamination, a condition that [has] beset Manila Bay for a long time,” said the scientists.
The UP group has offered to help the DENR craft and implement such a science-based rehab program for the bay—an offer the government should take up, because its much-touted white sand project, which is costing taxpayers P389 million (P28 million alone for the 3,500 tons of crushed dolomite slapped on a tiny portion of the Manila Bay coastline), is looking more forlorn and pointless by the day. Recent photos showed that, just weeks after the dolomite dumping, a good portion of the sand has been eroded and washed away with the onset of rains. That P389 million earmarked for the bay project, on the other hand, could plant at least 13,000 hectares of mangroves, according to the group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas,
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque earlier defended the controversial project by saying the effect of “going to places like Manila Bay that has a white beach” cannot be quantified “when it comes to the mental health of our people” amid the pandemic. A long-cooped-up populace took that glib rationale as a cue, and crowds flocked to the “Manila Bay Sands” as soon as it was opened late last month, violating the government’s own guidelines on physical distancing. “People now are really enjoying the reclaimed area with the white sand,” President Duterte crowed in his late-night public address last Sept. 21.
Infrawatch PH convener Terry Ridon, however, said Mr. Duterte may have confused the objectives of the Manila Bay rehabilitation, which has three phases: cleanup/water quality improvement, rehabilitation and settlement, and education and sustainment, none of which is addressed by the white sand project. “The urgent objective of rehabilitating Manila Bay was not to give the public a nice place to visit, as the President said. The objective is to improve water quality, protect biodiversity, and ensure sustainable development. As admitted by DENR officials themselves, beach nourishment is not found in any Manila Bay master plan,” Ridon pointed out.
In an odd move, the DENR recently suspended the two mining companies that provided the crushed dolomite and is now investigating whether they violated pertinent laws (according to environmental groups, at least five were violated by the Manila Bay project). Odd—because where does the DENR get off leading the probe when it is a principal party to the case, having greenlighted the venture, imported the sand, and, against the warnings and misgivings of independent experts, vociferously vouched for what is now proving to be a quicksand of a project?
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.