Pena: Mission impossible?

THE Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) led by Secretary Roy A. Cimatu re-launched recently the Manila Bay Rehabilitation Project with simultaneous activities on all regions in the Manila Bay area. At the main venue in Manila, around 5,000 participants joined the activity mostly personnel from DENR and other ‘mandamus agencies’. In Pampanga, the activity was held in Guagua under the leadership of the DENR- PENRO Office. The EMB Region 3 staff were in Bulacan, not to do a clean-up, but to issue notices of violations to erring companies.

The day after, netizens praised the DENR for clearing the Baywalk and shorelines of Manila Bay of garbage. However, Congressmen from the Makabayan bloc urged the agency to suspend the project due to the lack of proper consultations with informal settlers to be affected by the cleanup program. Thousands of houses along river banks who discharge their waste directly into waterways will be relocated.

Why re-launch? It’s been ten years since the Supreme Court ordered several government agencies, now called “mandamus agencies,” to rehabilitate the bay. The plans and programs were already laid out and are being implemented. However, the DENR, inspired by their success in cleaning Boracay, wants to fast-track the clean-up. DENR Usec. Benny Antiporda said that the efforts of mandamus agencies to clean up the bay have not been visible or felt during the last 10 years. He blamed previous unsuccessful efforts to "weak coordination and collaboration among mandamus agencies."

The clearing of garbage during the re-launching barely scratched the surface of the problem. The real “battle” is reducing the fecal coliform level in the bay which is at 330 million MPN (most probable number) per 100 milliliters. The presence of fecal coliform bacteria means the water has been contaminated with human and animal waste. The mandamus agencies’ mandate is to make the water suitable for swimming and recreation. That means reducing the coliform level to 100MPN/100 ml. The DENR’s goal is achieve a level of less than 270 MPN/100ml by December 2019.

To achieve the target, untreated sewage from households and factories should not be discharged into water bodies. Recently, the Manila Zoo which has been discharging untreated water directly into the bay was voluntarily closed by the City Government of Manila. It’s a good start. Residual pesticides and fertilizers from farmlands should likewise be controlled. This calls for the strict enforcement of the Philippine Clean Water Act and other environmental laws.

No doubt the government is dead serious in rehabilitating Manila bay. The question is whether reduction of coliform from 330 million to 270 is achievable by December. Is this “mission impossible?” Not so, says Usec Antiporda, who said that it is possible if citizens would do their share.

The project has now the full backing of President Duterte. He approved the Manila Bay rehabilitation plan proposed by the DENR and gave a budget allocation of P42.95 billion for three years. Meanwhile, let’s do our share by keeping the rivers in our areas free of garbage and dirty water.


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