Senators want Manila Bay ‘white sand beach’ project suspended while ‘potential health hazards’ are unresolved

Two senators on Monday urged the government to put to a halt the filling of artificial white sand in the Manila Bay rehabiitation project given the health department’s warning on the potential health hazards of using dolomite dust.

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

Senator Nancy Binay said the Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed that dolomite dust—a type of mineral composed of calcium magnesium carbonate—can  cause adverse respiratory reactions, eye irritation and discomfort in the gastrointestinal system.

“Yung paglalagay ng dolomite as a substitute for white sand only means na hindi dumaan sa tamang proseso at pag-aaral ang plano sa Manila Bay rehabilitation (the use of dolomite as substitute for white sand only means that the Manila Bay rehabilitation project did not go through the right process and extensive study),” Binay said in a statement.

“Walang public consultation, walang environmental clearance, hilaw ang EIA/EIS, at malinaw na bara-bara at di comprehensive ang plano (There was no public consultation, no environmental clearance, the EIA/EIS was hastily released and it was clear the project had no comprehensive plan),” she pointed out.

Binay was referring to the project’s lack of an Environmental Impact Assessment or EIA and or Environmental Impact Statement or EIS, which is a requirement mandated by law to all government agencies for every project or undertaking that significantly affects the environment.

The senator also stressed the need for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to release to the public the project’s budget and approved environmental impact statement in the interest of transparency. She said the public deserves the right to be informed about the whole context of the project particularly its impact to the environment and public health.

“If DENR is thinking about the welfare of the people and the environment, it is but proper for them to immediately stop the dumping of dolomite,” she said.

Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan also echoed Senator Risa Hontiveros’ call, saying that the government should instead prioritize addressing the increased hunger and joblessness that Filipinos are now experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Hindi katanggap-tanggap na habang nagugutom ang mga kababayan natin, walang hanapbuhay ang mga magulang, at walang kagamitan ang mga anak para sa online classes, ay nagtatapon lang tayo ng pera sa mga proyektong maaaring makasira pa sa kalikasan at sa ating kalusugan, (It is completely unacceptable that while our people are going hungry, parents have lost their jobs, and children have no gadgets to use for online classes, we are wasting money for a project that can only contribute to the destruction of our environment and our health),” Pangilinan lamented.

Pangilinan said the money used for the Manila Bay rehabilitation project could have been used by the government to procure189,000 sacks of rice which is P2,100 per 50-kilo sack; WiFi connection for 55,000 students, which is at P600 per month or P7,200 per year; 26,000 laptops for teachers and students; over 130 million face masks; more than P66,000 added in the salaries of 6,000 nurses and medical technicians for one year or; 300,000 test kits for COVID-19.

“The last thing we want in the middle of this pandemic is causing more risks to the health and safety of our people. Bugbog na nga ang healthcare system dahil sa COVID-19 at korapsyon sa PhilHealth, dadagdagan pa natin, (Our healthcare system is already overwhelmed due to COVID-19 and the corruption in PhilHealth and we’ll just be adding more problem to that),“ the senator lamented.

“The last thing we want in the middle of this pandemic is causing more risks to the health and safety of our people,” Pangilinan stressed.