That’s how Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Carlos Zarate described the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’s (DENR’s) decision to create a “white beach” in Manila Bay amid a public health crisis.
“Alam naman natin na ang pinakamalaking problema ngayon ay itong pandemya ng COVID. So very insensitive na mag-pursue pa ng ganitong project para lang may matignan na maputi dyan sa Manila Bay (We know that the biggest problem right now is the COVID pandemic. So it’s very insensitive to pursue this kind of project just for us to see something white there in Manila Bay),” Zarate said in a manifestation before the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday night.
At that time, the House panel was tackling DENR’s proposed budget of P25.553 billion under the 2021 National Expenditure Program (NEP). Agency officials led by Secretary Roy Cimatu were on hand in the mixed live and virtual hearing.
“Hindi naman natural na kalagayan ng Manila Bay yan na mayroon maputing beach. Kung talagang gusto natin ay ma-appreciate ng mamamayan yung sunset ng Manila Bay, ang malaking problema dyan ay yung dumping of waste pa rin (It’s not Manila Bay’s natural state to have a white beach. If we really want our people to appreciate the sunset of Manila Bay, the big hindrance to that is still the dumping of waste there),” Zarate pointed out.
White-colored crushed dolomite is being used for the proposed artificial beach in Manila Bay’s Baywalk area under a P389-million rehabilitation program. Cimatu told House members that the funds came not from the existing 2020 national budget, but from last year.
Of the amount, some P28 million was spent to acquire and transport the dolomite from Cebu, DENR Undersecretary Jonas Leones said during the hearing.
The Manila Bay rehabilitation project has twice as much money allocated to it compared to the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), wherein some 18 million low-income families were given emergency cash aid ranging from P5,000 to P8,000 each for two months at the height of the COVID-triggered lockdown.
Meanwhile, Leones admitted to Muntinlupa lone district Rep. Ruffy Biazon that the “beach nourishment” effort – the agency’s term for the dolomite-dumping acitivity – wasn’t neither in DENR’s master plan, as posted on its website, nor the National Economic and Development Authority’s Manila Bay sustainable master plan.
“If he (would) just agree with me if I say that nowhere in this two plans can I find ‘beach nourishment’ as being part of the plans?” Biazon asked, to which Leones answered, “That is correct, Mr. Chair.”
Asked when the idea for beach nourishment was first hatched, Leones said it was the DENR’s response to the Palace directive to clean up and rehabilitate Manila Bay in 2019.