President  zooms in on bay  pollution problem

Published January 20, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

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.