WHAT can we expect to happen this 2019 as far as the environment is concerned? Well, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said that they will be more aggressive in enforcing environmental laws and regulations this year. Apparently, they were motivated by their experience in closing down and rehabilitating Boracay Island. They want to sustain the momentum, so to speak.

The good DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu said they will go for a much bigger task, which is the rehabilitation of Manila Bay. This is a complicated task which cannot be done in a short time. Manila Bay is a big area, spanning three regions, and the pollution comes from multiple sources. Obviously, they cannot close down Manila Bay like what they did to Boracay.

So what do they intend to do? Sec. Cimatu said that they will change their approach in rehabilitating Manila Bay because its water quality has not improved despite a Supreme Court mandamus for its cleanup issued a decade ago. I can attest to that. I am a member of the Manila Bay Site Coordinating Committee for Central Luzon Region since day 1. We meet quarterly to review the progress made by the different agencies involved.

It can be recalled that lawyer Antonio Oposa filed a case in court to force the government to clean Manila Bay. After years of legal battle, the Supreme Court made a landmark decision on December 18, 2008 when it issued a Writ of Continuing Mandamus directing 13 government agencies “to clean up, rehabilitate and preserve Manila Bay, and restore and maintain its waters to make them fit for swimming, skin-diving, and other forms of contact recreation.

A bill was filed in Congress to create a super body to be known as the Manila Bay Development Authority (MBDA). The MBDA is intended to be both a regulatory body and a business entity. It has the power to approve or disapprove plans of LGUs and government agencies on projects related to Manila Bay. It has the exclusive jurisdiction to issue permits for the use of the water for any projects affecting the bay. It can require LGUs to pass appropriate zoning ordinances and other regulatory measures. Since the bill was filed, I did not hear any update in any of the quarterly meetings I attended.

This year, the DENR said they will put up a Manila Bay command center, get the local government units more involved, and be more aggressive in enforcing environmental laws, particularly against the discharge of untreated wastewater into the bay.

President Duterte supports the DENR’s more aggressive move. Recently, he threatened to close hotels near Manila Bay if they do not practice proper waste treatment. He ordered Interior Secretary Eduardo Año and Secretary Cimatu to proceed with plans to clean up Manila Bay, as they did with Boracay.

Cleaning up Manila bay is a huge task which requires the help of everyone not just the government. We all can help simply by properly managing our solid and liquid waste in our homes.