Shortly after he was handed the job of cleaning up Manila Bay, Secretary Roy Cimatu of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said it would take at least ten years to do it. He had just accomplished the cleaning up of Boracay after six months, but he saw the problem in Manila Bay a hundred times bigger than Boracay. It was a hundred times more polluted.
Last Thursday, President Duterte himself went straight to the root of the problem. All these years, he said, wastewater in Metro Manila and all the towns around the bay have flown directly into the bay. In earlier times, nature may have been able to absorb the man-made pollution, but in the last century, Metro Manila and all the towns around the bay grew and their wastes multiplied, so that today Manila Bay’s waters are no longer safe for swimming or any other water-contact sports.
In 2008, the Supreme Court, acting on a petition, called for the rehabilitation of Manila Bay, telling 13 government agencies led by the DENR what they had to do under the law. The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA), the Department of Health (DOH) all had their responsibilities. The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) was directed to get all the local governments around the bay to do their part. The Philippine National Police and the Philippine Coast Guard were to carry out the enforcement.
Somehow, the Supreme Court order in 2008 was never carried out. Eight later, when President Duterte was elected, he first acted on Boracay, then turned his attention to Manila Bay. Secretary Cimatu saw the magnitude of the problem and said it would take at least ten years.
All these years, former Manila mayor and former DENR secretary, now Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza has been pointing out that the contracts of the two water concessionaires of the MWSS included their setting up of sewage plants, and they were collecting environmental fees from the public for decades. But their efforts have not been up to the massive need.
President Duterte has now zoomed in on the reason the problem of pollution has reached this critical point. “All we can do is to reduce the contamination,” he said. “Why? Because there is no water treatment.” He blamed the “onerous” contracts with the two water concessionaires which he now seeks to revise.
There are other issues in the contracts and it may take time to resolve them all. There are claims for damages won in a court of arbitration in Singapore, although the two concessionares said they will no longer claim them. There is also need to develop new water sources for Metro Manila’s growing population. But we hope that primary attention will be given to the national shame that is the big problem pollution of Manila Bay.