DENR/DOT/DOH vs. legislators/academics/environmentalists

Published September 11, 2020, 3:57 PM

by Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid

Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid


That our country has been in a perpetual “conflict state” is a truism which today should not be regarded as inconsequential.

A policy decision area which has faced the country for the past six months of the pandemic is that of trying to balance the requirements of the economy and livelihood versus health rights.  We still have to await studies which would show how our policy makers arrived at decisions in this area.

In the meantime, several other “conflict areas“ have emerged, one of which is  the recent Manila Bay “beach nourishment” project.

As many know, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources had started dumping white sand in the Baywalk strip along Roxas Boulevard saying it wanted to bring the Boracay experience to Manila. But a group of environmentalists and academics from Greenpeace, Oceana Philippines, National Institute of Geological Sciences, among others, and legislators, had raised  negative public reaction such as its cost (P389 million) for  an artificial sand beach in the midst of a pandemic; that “it could have been used to purchase gadgets and produce modules for students and teachers,” that there were no public consultations or environmental clearance, and  that it is unnecessary as the white sand would simply sit on an uncleaned environment and be washed away by big waves during strong typhoons.”

Too, it was not part of the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master Plan adopted by NEDA, or the Manila Bay rehabilitation plan posted on the DENR website. House representatives noted that “without effort to stop the dumping of trash and dirty water into the river tributaries of Manila Bay, the project will merely go to waste. The waters of Manila Bay would remain deadly for as long as the two water concessionaries, failed to deliver on their obligation to build wastewater treatment plants to stop sewage from flowing directly into the bay.”

The Department of Health, which had earlier noted respiratory illnesses from inhaling the dolomite particles backtracked saying it could help lower the acidity of the toxic waters of Manila Bay. DENR noted it could “encourage tourism and the people to care for their environment.” It could “improve Filipinos’ mental health and make Manila Bay one of the most picturesque sceneries in the world,” according to the presidential spokesman.

To all these, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, although apparently supportive of the project, tried to appear neutral as he wished the critics good luck.

Now, the problem is how to translate all these factors into a decision that is  credible and therefore acceptable by a majority. Or to convince the public that the decision had taken into consideration the needs, rights, and welfare of every sector.

Our dilemma today is that current decision-making on many critical policy issues such as these, is primarily based on our capitalist system which scholars describe as having several weaknesses, among them  “inappropriateness of many economic policies; inefficient functioning of regulatory systems and lack of accountability; and failure of moral virtues or lack of trust, greed, truthfulness, and illegal manipulation of markets.”

The Writ of Kalikasan, a legal remedy introduced by Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno in 2010, provides protection of one’s constitutional right to a healthy environment. It primarily deals with environmental damage of such magnitude that it  threatens health and property. It would be advisable to start here but to go beyond and recognize that  theManila Bay beautification program offers  a greater challenge than  what the present Writ of Kalikasan now covers.  Stakeholders may now  desire to expand its scope to include issues such  as Ethics of Sustainability. Which would then demand much more comprehensive thinking in that it would weigh economic, social, ecological sustainability, environmental justice, and intergenerational justice factors, thereby  balancing various stakeholder rights, an attribute of  rational decision-making.

Being one of the most vulnerable countries of the world when it comes to climate change, it is about time that our social and development economists work together in designing appropriate tools and measures for making decisions on conflict situations such as the Manila Bay beach nourishment program.

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