A reminder on the problem of pollution in Manila Bay

Published February 18, 2021, 12:19 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Two decades after the Supreme Court ordered 13 government agencies led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to clean up Manila Bay, its waters remain unfit for human contact, filled with viruses and bacteria coming from the rivers and sewage outlets flowing into it from the cities and towns around, but mostly from the Pasig River.
Manila Bay was in the news again this weekend as former Manila Mayor, now Deputy Speaker and Buhay party-list Rep. LIto Atienza called on the government to act on a problem that has long hounded the bay.
In 2008, the Supreme Court, acting on a civil action filed by a group of Concerned Residents of Manila Bay, ordered the DENR, the Metro Manila Development Commission, and 11 other agencies to clean up the historic bay. They were given ten years to do it.
But the problem worsened as a succession of national administrations followed. President Duterte, after cleaning up Boracay in 2018, ordered Secretary Cimatu to clean up Manila Bay next and the secretary after an assessment of the huge problem said it would take more than 10 years to do it.
The fecal coliform levels in the bay had reached as high as 330 MPN (most probable number) per100 millimeters. The worst polluting establishments included hotels and restaurants, along with pigpens and factories along the Pasig River and its hundreds of tributaries. But the biggest source of pollution were millions of homes in Metro Manila spewing their household garbage and human wastes directly into the streams flowing into the Pasig, on to Manila Bay.
“We checked court records,” Congressman Atienza said this week. “Water samples taken from Manila Bay in 1999 showed fecal counts of 50,000 to 80,000 MPN (most probable number) per millimeter…. In contrast, the recent water samples now range from 11 million to 54 million per millimeter.”
“This is really not surprising because up to now, of the 16.3 million water-served population in Metro Manila, only 15 percent or 2.4 million are connected to a sewerage system. Clearly the bulk of Metro Manila’s household toilets continue to drain into waterways, including the Pasig River, that all empty out into the bay every day,” Atienza said.
The cause of all the pollution of Manila Bay has long been established – human waste flowing directly into hundreds of streams, some joining the Pasig River but many flowing directly into the bay. And there are other rivers and streams pouring into the bay from the surrounding provinces of Bataan, Zambales, Pampanga, and Bulacan in the north, to Cavite in the south.
No wonder, Manila Bay is “several times filthier” today than when the Supreme Court issued its order to clean it up in 1999, 22 years ago. “We have to stop the uncontrolled outflow of human sewage if we truly want to decontaminate Manila Bay,” Atienza said.
As Secretary Cimatu pointed out in 2018, it will take many years to clean up Manila Bay. It will take considerable funds which Congress has to approve. And it will take the coordinated efforts of many agencies, national and local, government and private business and civic organizations.
We laud Congressman Atienza for raising the issue once again, when everyone else seems to have given it up, for it is indeed such a formidable and seemingly insoluble problem. The Duterte administration has now turned to more urgent tasks related to recovering from the pandemic. The Manila Bay problem may have to be taken over by the next administration, but there is still time to take the basic steps now to solve it.