DESPITE criticisms, the Department of Environment and National Resources (DENR) temporarily opened on Saturday, September 19, the newly-rehabilitated portion of Manila Bay that was covered with artificial white sand from Cebu.
The opening was done as hundreds of people, including media, bloggers, and government officials, flocked to Manila Bay in time for the celebration of the International Coastal Cleanup Day.
Among those present Saturday were DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu and Manila Mayor Francisco "Isko Moreno" Domagoso. They conducted an inspection along the beach.
The artificial beach project, which reportedly costs an estimated P389 million, drew criticisms from environmental protection advocates and government officials.
For Vice President Leni Robredo, the budget used for the Manila Bay "beautification" could have been used to provide cash assistance to Filipinos affected by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) crisis.
"With almost P400 million budget at P5,000 for each family, you can help around 80,000 families in a month," Robredo said.
Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Leonor Briones said the funding for the Manila Bay project would have been a huge help for the government to buy gadgets for students and teachers shifting to distance learning.
"Sigurado ako malaking bahagi nyan mapupunta sa pangangailangan ng gadgets. Kasi we have more than 3,000 last mile schools na walang connectivity, medyo isolated sila," Briones said.
"Pero hindi kami nakiki-alam sa budget nang may budget. Kung ano ang inallocate samin ng Presidente at ng Department of Budget, 'yun ang pinagkakasya namin," she added.
Meanwhile, Fernando Hicap of the fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) feared that the crushed dolomite used to cover Manila Bay could be a potential threat to marine life.
"One of the objectives of Manila Bay rehabilitation is to decrease the amount of heavy metals in its waters -- dolomite contains high amount of heavy metals such as aluminum, lead and mercury, which would contribute to the pollution and acidity of Manila Bay," Hicap said.
"Why is DENR leading a campaign that could increase and cause further harm to the bay?" he asked.
Last September 17, residents of the seaside village of Baseco reported that hundreds of dead fish floated in Manila Bay.
It was not clear whether the crushed dolomites caused the fish kill, but the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said the 10 kilograms of fishes found floating in Manila Bay near Baseco, Tondo may have died due to very low levels of dissolved oxygen.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque earlier defended the government's Manila Bay "white sand" project, saying it will not only beautify Manila Bay, but will also address the area's problems on soil erosion and flooding of nearby roads.
He added that the laying of "white sand" along Manila Bay was part of the 2020 national budget, that was approved last year.
"It's not as if pinlano po itong proyektong ito ngayong panahon ng Covid. Hindi po," Roque said.
"Ang 2020 budget na ginagamit po natin para sa proyektong ito, 2019 pa po na-approve, wala pa pong Covid noon," he added. (Jove Moya/SunStar Philippines)