The shifting sands of public opinion: Dolomite beach attracts huge crowd

Published October 30, 2021, 5:31 PM

by Joseph Pedrajas

• For the past two weeks since the dolomite beach opened to the public on Oct. 16, a total of 322,718 people have already visited

• The highest single-day number was recorded on Oct. 24 at a whooping 121,744

• Visitors included children not properly wearing face masks, and adults violating social distancing

• The immediate relief of the Manila Bay Task Force ground commander was ordered to give way to an ‘honest to goodness’ investigation on the dolomite beach overcrowding

• DENR said it would now use a ‘cinema approach’ in accepting visitors, limiting the stay to two hours and allowing only about 4,000 people for a given time

• In September 2020, DENR was criticized for the P389 million project which covered Manila Baywalk area in crushed dolomite stones that created the white sand effect

The invitation of a white beach, wide space, and free entrance was a perfect mix for people suffering from cabin fever caused by the stay-at-home –or essentials-only trips – regulation to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for more than a year now.

Only a year ago in September 2020, that same area now known as the Manila Baywalk Dolomite Beach had sparked public dismay and social media criticisms due to its cost of P389 million at a time when the pandemic was being marked by a surge in the number of daily new infections.

The criticisms that focused on the crushed dolomite stones that resulted in the white sandy surface of the beach now seems to be so far away. Is it healthy to breathe in the fine granules of dolomite? Is it healthy for the coastal ecosystem to have dolomite sand mix with sea life? Will a typhoon or flood wash away the dolomite sand – and the P389 million project? Those were among the questions that fueled the start of the project.

Today, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is being criticized again for its dolomite beach project. But this time, the criticisms are focused on the thousands of people who came to visit and in the process, violated various health protocols against COVID-19.

322, 718 visitors in two weeks

For the past two weeks since the dolomite beach opened to the public on Oct. 16, a total of 322,718 people have already visited the proposed tourist spot, according to figures reported to former Manila Bay Task Force Ground Commander Jacob Meimban.

Large number of people crowd the entrance gate of Manila Baywalk Dolomite Beach (Manila Bulletin file photo)

121,744 visitors in one day

The highest single-day number was recorded on Oct. 24 at a whooping 121,744! Visitors included children not properly wearing face masks, and adults violating social distancing.

DENR Undersecretary for Planning, Policy and International Affairs Jonas Leones said he did not see any lapse committed by the agency in terms of ensuring the visitors’ compliance with minimum health standards. They just did not expect it to be deluged with a big number of people, he added.

According to a report from the ground commander, 322,718 people visited the dolomite beach in two weeks after it was opened on Oct. 16, 2021 (Manila Bulletin file photo)

Many people also wanted to see the dolomite beach because it was highly “publicized,” DENR Undersecretary for Solid Waste Management and Local Government Units Concerns Benny Antiporda had said in a press conference.

Leones had previously said that DENR would allow everybody in the Dolomite beach regardless of age or vaccination status that could have led to people flocking the area.

But after the public criticisms and the concerns raised by government officials, DENR retracted its policy and said only children below 11 years would not be allowed.

“We’re now vaccinating children belonging to the 12 to 17 age group. So that’s our basis why we will allow them [entry into the Dolomite beach],” Leones explained.

However, officials and netizens have pointed out that it is still against the national government’s Alert Level 3 guidelines which states that those below 18 years old are still prohibited from going out except for essential purposes and outdoor exercises.

Who is to blame?

Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso called on the national government’s pandemic task force to file charges against DENR officials over violation of health measures.

Moreno said it is ironic that the national government has ordered compliance to health protocols but it cannot hold its government officials liable if they violate the rule.

Manila Baywalk Dolomite Beach before it was opened to the public (Manila Bulletin file photo)

“Charge those people in DENR for violating our rules. If they cannot implement it within their offices, then there is no point implementing it to the public. We are giving the public a hard time but those violating the rules are those in the national government. It doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t add up,” Moreno said in an ANC interview.

However, Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said the agency will not file charges against DENR officials as DILG has no control over the project and the operation of the Dolomite beach.

“What we do is we support the policies enunciated by the DENR. (DENR Sec. Roy) Cimatu already made categorical pronouncements as to how we are going to regulate [them]…so what we’re going to do is just to support the DENR ensure that all of these regulations are followed,’’ Malaya said.

The making of Manila Baywalk Dolomite Beach (Manila Bulletin file photo)

Task force ground commander relieved

Cimatu, in response, ordered the immediate relief of Manila Bay Task Force ground commander Jacob Meimban. His relief would give way to an “honest to goodness” investigation of what transpired during the dolomite beach overcrowding, according to Antiporda.

Meimban will be replaced by Retired General Reuel Sorilla, DENR’s director of enforcement service, Antiporda said. The overcrowding at the Dolomite beach was an enforcement issue, so someone with enforcement capacity would be fit for the role, he added.

“We’re not making him (Meimban) a sacrificial lamb. He already said that being the commander, he takes full responsibility for what happened,” Cimatu clarified.

Cinema approach for a beach visit

Following criticisms, DENR said it would now use a “cinema approach” in terms of implementing new policies in the dolomite beach. This includes limiting visitors’ stay to up to two hours, like when they are watching a movie, and only allowing around 4,000 people for every given time. These can be done through giving out stubs for entry.

DENR also ordered the closure of the dolomite beach from Oct. 29 to Nov. 3 for maintenance works and in observance of the All Saints’ Day and the All Souls’ Day.

After that, DENR officials said they would see if they would retain its closure for other rehabilitation works.

Only last year

Last year, DENR also faced criticism for turning the Manila Baywalk into a white sand beach by dumping dolomite sand—an anhydrous carbonate mineral composed of calcium magnesium carbonate from Cebu.

Several groups said the dolomite sand, which was taken by mining, does not only bring danger to the environment but also to people’s health. Even the Department of Health (DOH) once warned that inhalation of fine particles of dolomite might lead to respiratory problems.

Social media netizens had also criticized Presidential spokesman Harry Roque after he defended the project, which costs about P389 million, by saying the dolomite beach is good for the people’s “mental health.”

Netizens said the fund for the project could be used for more essential needs amid COVID-19 pandemic.