THE “Battle for Manila Bay” will be won in seven years, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said Monday.
Seven years is such a long time. It is six and a half years longer than it took to clean up Boracay. It is also four years longer than the remaining three years of the Duterte administration. But the great big fact is that the cleanup is finally beginning.
It has been over a hundred years since the three and a half centuries of the Spanish colonial period ended with Admiral Dewey’s victory over the Spanish fleet in the bay and Metro Manila began its steady expansion. And all during this period, Manila Bay has been continuously polluted from all sides, but mostly from the Pasig River carrying the wastes from all of Metro Manila.
No wonder, the Supreme Court found it necessary to issue an order in 2008 directing 13 government agencies led by the DENR “to clean up, rehabilitate, and preserve Manila Bay, restore and maintain its waters to make them fit for swimming, skindiving, and other forms of contact recreation.”
That key phrase “contact recreation” was there because Manila Bay, even then, was not fit for human contact of any kind. Swimming was forbidden, wading in the bay’s waters could cause infection and disease, because the waters were full of coliform bacteria from all the wastes pouring into it. This level was measured recently at 330 million MPN (most probable number) per 100 milliliters, when the acceptable level is only100 MPN per 100 milliliters. Some areas of the bay are said to have as much as a billion MPN.
The DENR was able to clean up Boracay in six months. It will need seven years for Manila Bay.
Phase 1 of the program calls for the clean-up of esteros, reduction of the fecal coliform level, and requiring all government, commercial, industrial, educational, and other establishments to have their sewage treated. And planning will start for the relocation of some 233,000 informal settlers – squatters – who now dispose of their wastes directly into the streams and rivers flowing in to the bay.
Phase 2 will involve the rehabilitation of old sewage lines in the entire National Capital Region, continuing relocation of squatters, and completion of sewage treatment facilities by Metro Manila’s two private water concessionaires – Manila Water and Maynilad.
Phase 3 will be a continuing education and information campaign, sustained law enforcement and monitoring, and completion of Metro Manila’s sewage system.
The Manila Zoo was among the first establishments ordered closed until it is able to have an adequate waste processing system, instead of directly dumping it into the bay. Several other establishments – restaurants and hotels and other residences – were issued notices of violations and cease-and-desist orders.
And this is only the beginning. The national government has set aside R47 billion for the cleanup project, with the local governments around the bay expected to set aside funds for their own programs.
The Duterte administration will be remembered for many things, notably its all-out anti-drugs campaign and soon, its massive infrastructure program “Build, Build, Build.” Its “Battle for Manila Bay” will take its place beside these programs as the hallmarks of decisive governance.