It will take years  to clean up Manila Bay

Published January 18, 2019, 12:19 AM

by Manila Bulletin

e-cartoon-jan-18-2019It took six months to clean up Boracay’s waters. It will take seven years to clean up Manila Bay until it becomes as clean as in Boracay today, Secretary of Agriculture Emmanuel Pinol said in a radio interview this week.

Even this estimate is an optimistic one, considering the fact  that Boracay is a small island measuring about 10 square kilometers with many establishments along  its  shores polluting perhaps 10 square kilometers of open  sea around it. Manila Bay is nearly 2,000 square kilometer of enclosed water. The pollution that flows into it via the Pasig river alone comes from over 600 square kilometers of congested neighborhoods that make up Metro Manila.

Boracay is a relatively new development, becoming the nation’s top tourist attraction only recently. Manila has been the country’s capital for at least one hundred years and Metro Manila has been growing around it. The Pasig river flows through it, carrying all the untreated sewage from the area into the bay.

Former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, also a former secretary of the DENR, has long called for the cleanup of the bay which, he said in radio program early this week, is now a giant “pozo negro” – a septic tank, much like President Duterte’s description of Boracay last May as a “cesspool.”

He said two companies have a concession from the government to clean up the sewage in their respective areas before it  is released to the Pasig river. For this,  he said, they have been collecting environmental fees from the public in the last 30 years.

There are other sources of pollution around the bay – the towns and cities on its shores in Bataan, Pampanga,  Bulacan,  and Cavite, and along the  many rivers draining into the bay. But it is Metro Manila that is the principal source of the bacterial coliform  level of over 300  million Most Probable Number (MPN) per 100 milliliters of water

DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu conducted an initial tour along the Metro Manila shore  of  Manila Bay and found that most of some 200 business establishments and 38 hotels did not have proper sewage treatment facilities. He found several pipes and other outlets from which dirty water flowed directly into the bay. He said Estero de San Antonio Abad in Malate, Manila, appeared to be “ground zero” of the bay pollution. He estimated that the bay must now have some 1.3 million coliform  organisms from human wastes.

As in Boracay, the polluting establishments will be required to install treatment facilities before disposing of their wastes. The national government is prepared to spend around P47 billion for  the cleanup. But much more may have to be spent by the polluting establishments around the bay.  And the two companies supposed to have set up treatment plants with their regular collections from their                                                                                                                        customers will have  to make good on their contracts to finally set them up.