Palace: P389-M white beach project to improve mental health of Filipinos

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola, Argyll Cyrus Geducos, Raymund Antonio, and Ellalyn V. Ruiz

Senators have urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to make sure that the ₱389 million allotted for the artificial beach in Manila Bay will not go to waste.

Workers pile the "white sand" to be laid on Manila bay.
(Jansen Romero / MANILA BULLETIN)

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said he believes that the DENR has good intentions for beautifying and rehabilitating Manila Bay by filling a 500-meter stretch of baywalk with artificial white sand, but he cited the concern of geologist and professor Mahar Lagmay that the agency’s “beach nourishment” project may only be washed away by storms and high tides, and eventually end up wasted.

"Baka short term lang ito at temporary, gagastos tayo ngayon pero sa dahil lakas ng alon baka madala lang sa kalagitnaan ng dalampasigan at mawala din (This may be short-term and temporary, that we will spend funds for it but because of the strong waves, the sand will just be transported away from the coast)," Gatchalian said in an interview over radio DWIZ.

"'Yun lang ang akin baka masayang lang kung mawa-wash out din itong white sand kung di maglalagay ng engineering device (To me, the project will go to waste if the white sand will just be washed out and there are no engineering devices to protect it)...Maganda ang intensyon pero baka masayang ang pera kung mawa-wash out (The intention is good but we may just waste money if this will be washed out)."

"Kaya ang payo ko sa DENR siguraduhin nila na tatagal ito na matagal na matagal dahil kung...mawala 'yan baka katakot-takot na demanda ang abutin ng DENR dahil sayang ang pera (That's why my advice to the DENR is to make sure that this will be sustained and will last for a long time because if it will just be washed out, they might face piles of charges for misusing the funds)," he said.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III lauded the government's "political will" for pursuing the beach project but said no one should be put at a disadvantage.

"Kung nakakaimbita ng turista, walang maapektuhan, pwede. Pero kung may maapektuhan ay masama (If it will entice tourists, and no one will be affected badly, then I'm okay with it. Otherwise, then it is not good," Sotto said.

To prevent it from being washed out, he told the DENR: "Huwag silang kukuha ng kontratistang bano. Kailangan 'yong magaling, 'yong nakakaalam(They should not hire incompetent contractors. They should be competent, experienced with such a project)."

DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda had defended the project from public criticisms. He said the DENR has also prepared "engineering interventions" to preserve and prevent erosion of the artificial beach.

Improve people’s mental health

Malacañang has rejected criticisms that the funds for the rehabilitation of the Manila Bay should have been used for the government’s COVID-19 response instead.

The white beach in the famous Manila sunset destination can improve the
people’s mental health amid the pandemic, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

In an interview Saturday, Roque rejected the argument raised by some that the funds for the project could have been used for the government’s COVID-19 response.

Netizens have pointed out that President Duterte has kept on saying that the government was running out of funds.

According to Roque, the white sand beach in Manila Bay can actually help improve the public’s mental health as it will distract them from the global health crisis.

“Sa gitna ng pandemya, kinakailangan din na pangalagaan ang mental health (We all need to take care of our mental health in the middle of the pandemic),” he told reporters.

“I think, yung pagpapasyal sa mga lugar kagaya ng Manila Bay, hindi mo maka-quantify ang epekto niyan pagdating po sa mental health ng ating mga kababayan – yung kapayapaan ng pag-iisip (I think going to places like Manila Bay, you can’t quantify its effect on our mental health – the peace that it brings in our minds),” he added.

Roque likewise said he does not believe that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) would pursue the project if it would hurt the environment.

Roque said on Friday that the DENR used crushed sedimentary rocks, which appear like white sand, for the rehabilitation project at Manila Bay.


The Palace official said he is personally looking forward to the outcome of the project.

“I’m looking forward to it dahil ako po ay mahilig talaga na maglakad at maupo diyan sa Manila Bay (because it’s really a habit of mine to walk along and sit down at the Manila Bay),” Roque said.

Roque added that the white sand beach in Manila Bay will also boost its popularity worldwide.

“Sa tingin ko po ang beach na ‘yan ang makakatulong pa para maging
pinakamagandang lugar sa buong mundo ang Manila Bay (I think that beach would help Manila Bay be known as one of the most beautiful places in the world),” he said.

“Right now, Manila Bay is known for its sunset, probably the best sunset in the world. With the white beach there, it will be one of the most picturesque sceneries in the whole world,” he added.

Misplaced priority

Vice President Leni Robredo said on Sunday that the white sand project at the Manila Bay is a misplaced priority by the government, especially during this coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking in her weekly radio show, Robredo called out the administration for spending ₱389 million for the project when it had repeatedly admitted a lack of funds for COVID-19 response.

“Napaka-insensitive na gagawin mo ‘yan sa height ng pandemic na ang daming nagugutom, ang daming naghihirap (It is very insensitive you will do that at the height of pandemic when many people are starving and suffering),” she said.

“Sa panahon ngayon na ang sagot sa atin wala tayong pera, nakakainsulto
kapag nakikita ng tao ‘yung ganitong programa (At a time like this when their response to us is that we have no funds, it is insulting when people see this kind of program),” she added.

The Vice President suggested to give each of the 10 million poorest Filipinos families a monthly cash aid worth ₱5,000 to help them cope during the crisis but the government said it does not have enough funds.

Robredo said the millions of funds used for the white sand project of Manila Bay could have been better spent to help 80,000 families in need.

“Iyong makatulong sa mental health ng tao, tapusin na ang pandemya. Gawin natin ‘yung lahat para bumalik na tayo sa normal (What can help the public’s mental health is to end the pandemic. Let us do everything, so we can return to normal),” she said.

Robredo said the administration should reassess the 2020 budget towards the COVID-19 response to meet the pressing needs of the people during the crisis.

Environmental laws

An organization focused on protecting the oceans said several laws have not been followed by the DENR when it dumped synthetic white sand on the coast of the Manila Bay.

Under the Fisheries Code, Local Government Code, and the Environmental Impact Assessment System Act, government agencies are required to undertake an Environmental Impact Study and acquire an Environmental Compliance Certificate for this kind of project, Oceana Philippines Vice President Gloria Estenzo Ramos said.

She pointed out that these laws have to be done in a full-blown participatory process.

“Ironically, it is the DENR that does not seem to follow the requirements set by law,” she added.

Oceana expressed alarm that the white sand does not appear to be a natural substrate of that portion of the bay. DENR had earlier clarified that the sand came from Cebu and is made of “crushed dolomite boulders,” a variant of limestone.

The group said the government may not just be destroying the natural ecosystem in Manila Bay but also of the source of this white sand.

Ramos asked the DENR-Biodiversity Management Bureau to step in to this planned project by the agency.