Lawmakers assail Manila Bay ‘white sand’ project; safety, sustainability raised

Lawmakers on Wednesday urged the government to immediately stop the ongoing Manila Bay “white sand” project, questioning its safety, sustainability, and propriety.

House Deputy Minority Leader and Probinsyano Ako Party-list Rep. Jose “Bonito” Singson Jr. called for a stop in the dumping of crushed dolomite as part of the ₱397.8-million Manila Baywalk clean-up plan, saying that the project is “inappropriate and unnecessary” at this time of public health crisis.

Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to stop throwing people’s money down the drain by dumping synthetic white sand – crushed dolomite – onto the polluted Manila Bay, while detained Senator Leila de Lima criticized the Duterte government for giving priority to the Manila Bay rehabilitation project amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Atienza, former mayor of Manila, said the DENR must “first address the real problem” of hundreds of tons of sewage dumping in Manila Bay before thinking about using cosmetics that will not last long in covering up the stink. “What good will covering the Baywalk with artificial sand does when the waters of Manila Bay remain as polluted as ever?” Atienza asked.

Read more: Stop wasting people’s money by beautifying Manila Bay with artificial sand – solon

“We put a halt to numerous projects and programs in the 2020 budget so we could fund our COVID19 response, yet they still pursued this endeavor without even a second thought. Millions of pesos down the drain, and worse, most likely attended by corruption, again!” De Lima said in a statement.

De Lima said she is also appalled at how the government could easily find ways to transport dolomite from Cebu, but has not done enough to transfer the fruits and vegetable produce from Baguio, nor has it done much to help locally stranded individuals (LSIs) who have been waiting to be sent home.

Read more: De Lima slams DENR for ‘cosmetic’ Manila Bay project amid pandemic

At the same time, the senator slammed the DENR for dumping crushed dolomite on Manila Bay supposedly to make it look like the Boracay island beach while the rest of the country is still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said people are “too stressed, tired, broke and jobless to even care that the color of the sand in Manila Bay is black.”

“The DENR is supposed to protect the environment, not to artificially change it by creating a white sand beach where previously there was none,” she pointed out.

At the House of Representatives, the Makabayan bloc headed by Senior Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Isagani T. Zarate filed House Resolution No. 1194 proposing the conduct of an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the “suitability and sustainability of the Manila Bay Rehabilitation Program.”

In a press statement, Singson backed the conduct of a congressional probe into the issue that has alarmed health and environmental advocates.

Singson slammed Presidential spokesman Harry Roque for saying that the project would benefit Filipinos’ mental health.

He also lamented DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda’s argument that the project would discourage people from littering in the Manila Baywalk area.

“The government should be prioritizing the health and safety of everyone amidst the COVID-19 pandemic instead of spending on unnecessary beautification projects disguised to promote the mental health of a few who may be lucky enough to pass by the Manila Baywalk project vis-a-vis the general population of over a hundred million Filipinos.,” Singson pointed out.

“To top it all, the dumping of foreign materials such as the dolomite is not a sustainable endeavor as these will eventually be washed out into the open sea as declared by environmentalists and numerous experts,” the parytlsit solon explained.

Singson chided the proponents of the dolomite dumping scheme for pursuing “this quixotic project is a bare faced corruption-related scheme.”

Makabayan lawmakers also cited the objections of numerous groups against the project, saying that all of these have been ignored by the DENR.

“Various groups are also expressing deep concern on the utilization of the ₱389-million funding for the 500-meer stretch of site or ₱778,000 per meter, as bared by Usec Antiporda, which could be better used for genuine and more productive component projects such as mangrove reforestation in the Manila Bay,” the lawmakers said.

Oppositors of the project included lawyer Jay Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines Institute of Maritime Affairs who said that there are serious public health hazard that should concern proponents of the project.

Executive Director Mahar Lagmay of the UP Resilience Institute also questioned the sustainability of the project, pointing out that beach nourishment projects in other countries have proven to be very costly. Greenpeace questioned the project’s environmental impact as it pointed out that “dumping of sand does not add to the objective and cleaning” of Manila Bay.

De Lima stressed that even environmentalists agree that it is not proper practice to replace the naturally occurring sand on a beach with a totally different kind of sand from another beach that is not part of the beach’s ecosystem.

“Again, DENR’s mandate is rehabilitation, preservation and protection of our environment. It is not a beach resort developer,” added the lawmaker.