Non-government organizations (NGOs) on Tuesday urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Agriculture (DA), and the Manila City government to revisit and investigate why the P398-million Manila Bay beautification project was able to push through.
“We call on the following to investigate why this beautification project pushed through: DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu, DA Secretary William Dar, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Director Eduardo Gongona, Senate and House of Representatives in the exercise of their oversight powers and functions, the Ombudsman, Mayor Francisco Damogoso of the City of Manila and the Sangguniang Panglungsod of Manila, and chair Rene Escalante of the National Historical Commission,” the groups said.
In a position paper led by Oceana Philippines, the NGOs said that “the dumping of crushed dolomite boulders in Manila Bay can only be described as an abdication of that grave responsibility to protect and preserve Manila Bay.”
“That this is the brainchild of DENR, whose very mandate is to protect the environment and enforce environmental laws, erodes trust in our institutions which are mandated to protect our environmental rights,” it added.
Others signatories include the Living Laudato Si’ Philippines, Environmental Legal Assistance Center, Philippine Earth Justice Center Inc., Archdiocese of Manila-Ministry on Ecology, Dr. Jurgenne Primavera of the Zoological Society of London Integrated Rural Development Foundation, NGOs for Fisheries Reform, Tambuyog Development Center, and Pangingisda Natin Gawing Tama Network.
They asked that the dumping of “white sand” must be stopped and the officials behind this project be held accountable.
The NGOs said that among the impacts of the dump-and-fill activities in Manila Bay are aquatic pollution, marine habitat degradation, loss of globally important waterbird site, loss of sardine spawning grounds, and loss of mangroves and wetland areas.
“We condemn this project and it must be stopped as it has not undergone an environmental impact assessment nor a consultative and participatory process in both Manila Bay and in Cebu, as to its environmental impacts, thereby violating several environmental laws,” they said.
“Moreover, we cannot gloss over the fact that sea level rise will lay to waste the funds expended for this beautification project,” they said.
The advocates reiterated that the “white sand” is not the natural substrate of that portion of the bay and will eventually be washed away by waves that may erode the coast especially during this typhoon season.
Given the likelihood of erosion of the introduced sand, maintaining the area’s status requires periodic maintenance of the beach and will require replenishment of huge amounts of dolomite, which will entail more use of public funds.
To cover the 500-meter stretch baywalk in the coast of Manila Bay with white sand, they explained that the government transported 3,500 metric tons of dolomite to Manila from Alcoy, Cebu, which is close to the location of the largest remaining forest in Cebu and where populations of globally threatened species, like the critically endangered Cebu Flowerpecker, endangered Black Shama, Cebu Hawk Owl, and Streak-breasted Bulbul flock to.
“This project has dire impacts likewise on the integrity of the source of this substrate and the biodiversity that this habitat caters,” they added.
“We recommend that the Manila Bay rehabilitation be focused on addressing the ecological degradation, pollution, and socio-economic issues in the area,” the groups said.
The rehabilitation activities, they said, should particularly focus on reducing chemical, organic, and plastic pollution; installing water treatment facilities; banning the cutting of mangroves, and rehabilitating degraded areas; stopping the conversion of mangroves and wetlands through reclamation projects; protecting critical habitats such as mangroves and wetlands and declare them as protected areas; improving the management of protected areas such as the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area, and establishing formally the Fisheries Management Area for a holistic, science-based decision making on fisheries management.