A Dutch Treat for Manila Bay

Published September 3, 2018, 12:29 AM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

By Dr. Jaime C. Laya

A thick trash carpet covered Roxas Boulevard the other week, flung by wind and wave. Manila Bay tide circulates clockwise and the plastic bags and bottles, waste paper, discarded appliances, dead rats and cats, unmentionables were refuse disgorged by the Pampanga and Pasig Rivers and by the smaller streams of Bataán, Pampanga, and Bulacán. Also returned to sender was Metro Manila garbage hauled to dumps by the shoreline.

A bayside promenade can also clear a clogged nose. One sniff of the essence of uncounted Metro Manila septic tanks and voila!
Between flotsam and jetsam it’s a miracle the bay still has fish, fishponds, and fisherfolk.

The Netherlands is a world leader in water management and I was glad to meet Dutch water expert Sjef IJzermans at a dinner party. He remarked that parts of Metro Manila are sinking by about six centimeters a year due to a falling water table. Groundwater helps support land and with Metro Manila drawing water from deep wells, the water table has been receding, soil subsiding along with it. Making matters worse, melting Antarctic and Arctic ice covers mean a rising sea level estimated at 3.2 millimeters a year.

Tondo, Navotas, and other places built on alluvial soil or without a solid base like adobe could be closer to sea level by about half a meter or two feet in 10 years. Some places would be permanently flooded.

The Netherlands allotted P75 million and the Philippines, P250 million to formulate a comprehensive framework for the sustainable development and management of Manila Bay’s 190-kilometer stretch.

It is therefore encouraging that a Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master Plan (MBSDMP) is being prepared under a Philippines-Netherlands Agreement signed earlier this year by Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia and Dutch Ambassador Marion Derckx.


The Netherlands allotted P75 million and the Philippines, P250 million to formulate a comprehensive framework for the sustainable development and management of Manila Bay’s 190-kilometer stretch.

Planning and implementation decisions are complex:

  • The Bulacan shoreline is mangrove country, where fish spawn and grow, supporting bayside provinces’ fisherfolk and supplying some of Metro Manila’s food. The location and design of infrastructure and industrial projects should take this into account.
  • Special attention is needed for Navotas, Malabon, and other areas endangered by the rising sea level and storm surges. Cavite highlands are being built up. Rainfall runoff will be faster with thinning tree cover and lower towns like Bacoor will be exposed to heavier flooding.
  • Rivers and their tributaries, esteros, and Manila Bay itself are lined with illegal structures and informal settlers, contributing to pollution and flooding problems.
  • Land reclamation increases building area, but affects the environment and requires utilities and infrastructure investment.

In December 2008, the Supreme Court rendered a decision in GR 171948-49 ordering DENR, MMDA, LGUs, and other 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.”

It’s been business as usual since then but MBSDMP may provide the roadmap for implementing the Court’s wisdom. It’s a real Dutch Treat—Netherlands experience is the guide, deciding and doing is our job.

Notes: (a) Sjef IJzermans is Board Member of the Water Partner Foundation. He is a former Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Bangladesh and Deputy to the Ambassador of Tanzania and of Yemen; and (b) The Supreme Court decision emphasized, among others, the waste management of factories, commercial establishments, private homes; removal of illegal structures along rivers, Laguna de Bay, and waterways linked with Manila Bay; ship waste; restoration of marine life; establishment of sanitary landfills; the provision of an adequate national budget for the purpose.

Comments are cordially invited, addressed to [email protected]