By Ellalyn de Vera-Ruiz
Bolstered by the success of the Boracay Island rehabilitation in 2018, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) took on a bigger challenge in 2019 – to bring Manila Bay back to life.
“The year 2019 was a good one for the DENR,” Secretary Roy Cimatu said.
Since the launch of the Battle for Manila Bay in January, “we have been working non-stop to clean all waterways around the Manila Bay area,” which includes the coastal waters of Metro Manila, Bataan, Bulacan, Cavite, and Pampanga.
A total of 69,534 volunteers from Central Luzon, Region 4A, and National Capital Region (NCR) have collected 2,337,455.35 kilograms of wastes through cleanups, trash boats, and trash traps.
In addition, a total of 70 stations were monitored in the Manila Bay region, which include 31 bathing beaches, 18 river outfalls/mouths, 5 rivers, and 16 drainage outfalls.
“Our efforts include not only the removal of solid wastes from rivers and esteros through our hardworking volunteers, estero rangers and partner-government and private agencies but also the resettlement of illegal settler families along the rivers and creeks, and the closure of erring establishments around the Manila Bay area,” Cimatu said.
So far, 9,708 commercial establishments surrounding the Manila Bay were inspected and as a result, 2,478 were issued notices of violations and 107 were issued cease-and-desist orders.
A total of 44,125 informal settler families were recorded in the Manila Bay region. Of these, 51 families specifically situated in Estero de San Antonio de Abad were relocated in Tala, Caloocan City.
In line with this, 547.059 kilometers of easements have been delineated in NCR and Central Luzon, while delineation in Region 4A has just started.
“We filed a case at the Office of the Ombudsman against a local official of Limay, Bataan for the continued operation of an open dumpsite in violation of Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000,” Cimatu pointed out.
“Beyond Manila Bay, we filed a similar case also against a local official in Tabaco City in Albay. Cease and desist orders were also issued against the city of San Fernando and the municipalities of Bacolor and Porac in Pampanga,” he added. “These only mean that we are serious in running after violators of the said law.”
According to Cimatu, the Boracay rehabilitation is now more than 80 percent complete. The Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force (BIATF) has until May 2020 to finish the rehabilitation.
After one and a half years of rehabilitation, Cimatu announced that the water quality in Boracay‘s world-famous White Beach has greatly improved with coliform count now in the range of less than 1 most probable number per 100 milliliters (mpn/100ml) to 11.9 mpn/100ml which is way below the standard quality of 100 mpn/100ml for recreational waters.
“Prior to the closure of the island, coliform level readings in our outfalls reached millions,” Cimatu noted.
The DENR chief said the rehabilitation efforts moved into high gear this year, focusing on strict implementation of environmental laws and regulations.
The task force, he pointed out, is about to complete the demolition of all structures violating the 25+5-meter beach easement rule after tearing down the 10 remaining illegal structures along Bulabog Beach on November 10.
Likewise, almost 80 percent of all commercial and residential establishments have already complied with the 12-meter road easement rule along the Circumferential Road.
The BIATF also noted that Phase 1 of the rehabilitation of five out of nine wetlands on the island is 100 percent complete. These wetlands were adopted by private firms.
At an allowable 6,405 persons per day, the tourist arrival in Boracay remains within the allowable carrying capacity of 19,215 a day.
So far, 1.74 million tourists have arrived in Boracay this year. This number is 152 percent higher than last year, with Chinese, Koreans and Taiwanese as the top three foreign tourists.
The creation of a Boracay Island Development Authority (BIDA) under the DENR to permanently manage the island is being proposed in Congress, he said.
Cimatu also pointed out that other tourist destinations are being continuously rehabilitated like Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro and Coron in Palawan.
Intensified forest protection
Through the implementation of Lawin Forest and Biodiversity Protection System, a total of 121,607.44 kilometers have been patrolled.
A total of 1,321 forest protection officers (FPOs) were hired to protect the country’s natural forests and resources from the observed threats.
To intensify the enforcement of environmental laws, a total of 89 Community Environment and Natural Resources Office lawyers have been hired to specifically speed up the resolutions of lower level cases to prosecute violators of environmental standards. This only represents 57 percent of the annual target of 154.
“On the other hand, we mourned the killing of four of our DENR colleagues – our forest rangers and informants – who have bravely put their lives on the line to protect our forests. Despite these we remain steadfast in our campaign against illegal logging,” Cimatu said.
“We will continue to pursue the creation of an Enforcement Bureau that will protect them, whom we call our environmental heroes. In addition, we have already asked the Congress to come up with a legislation authorizing forest rangers to carry firearms to protect themselves against illegal logging syndicates and other environmental criminals,” he also said.